It’s around a year ago that I wrote an article at this site questioning whether Pixar and Disney would regret making Up. The thrust of the piece, which you can read here if you really want to, is that Pixar was taking a massive gamble once more, and making perhaps its most merchandise-unfriendly movie to date. At a point where the likes of DreamWorks was being increasingly canny in designing films with one eye on the lucrative toy market at the other end, Pixar seemed – not for the first time – to be blowing firmly against the wind.
A year later, with a worldwide gross of $723m under its belt along with five Oscar nominations (including one for Best Picture, only the second animated film to do so), it’s fair to say that Pixar not only won that gamble, but did it with some style.
And Up is certainly, at its peak, a brilliant film. Much has been made of the audacious sequence right near the start where, through music and stunning storytelling, we get to see the life that the film’s protagonist, Carl Fredericksen, enjoyed with his wife Ellie. It’s a brilliant, quite upsetting piece of work, and one that you almost feel like stepping back and applauding on the spot. Could it have worked in live action? It’s a moot point: Pixar gets through about 70 years of narrative in five or six minutes, in one of the most moving pieces of animated work you’re ever likely to see. Just stunning.
Inevitably, it’s a high that the rest of the film doesn’t quite match, but the divide here is nowhere near as pronounced as with Pixar’s earlier feature Wall-E. In Wall-E, from the moment the title character boards a space ship and leaves the planet’s surface, it becomes a different film entirely, and leaves the peak of the movie long behind. Up isn’t quite like that, as that opening leaves us with a 78-year-old Carl who looks like he’s all but given up on his dreams.
That’s when boy scout Russell comes knocking at his door, which sets in motion a chain of events that finally sees Carl following in the footsteps of his childhood hero, explorer Charles Muntz. Muntz has been lost in the wilderness for decades, but courtesy of a lot of balloons, Carl sets off in his house to fly off in search of the adventures that he promised Ellie he’d embark on.
Now, the first time I watched Up, I found myself a little disappointed in the back half of the film, as Carl and Russell go on their journey, encounter some very funny dogs, and come closer together. But on second and third viewings, I realised I’d got this one wrong. This is Carl’s story, and it’s a lot, lot tidier than I’d first given it credit for, and I really found myself rooting for him on subsequent viewings. He’s a terrific, not-always-entirely-likeable character, made all the better by not always being an easy one. And the film around him fits together exceptionally well.
Pixar’s trick here is to genuinely layer the film with plenty for the younger audience to enjoy, yet to also lay down a warm and rich story for the grown-ups to get their teeth into. It’s a moving piece of work that displays a level of ambition you simply aren’t getting from any other Hollywood studio.
It’s disappointing, perhaps, that after Up, Pixar is next making a pair of sequels – the incoming Toy Story 3 and next year’s Cars 2 – as I dearly want it to follow more of its original story ideas like this. Because warts and all, Up is some piece of work. It’s a very good film, based on a bold idea, and realised with a quality of animation, care and attention that everyone else is still striving to match. On the evidence here, they’re some way away from catching them up.
We checked out the two disc set that comes with one Blu-ray and a digital copy of the film on DVD. There’s a four-disc set we’re intending to buy next which holds back more features, as you get a smaller selection on this disc.
They’re not bad, though. We get an animated short about Dug the Dog, which actually turns into a prequel story for the film itself. And then there’s Partly Cloudly, the terrific animated short that complemented the cinematic release of Up. There’s also a small Easter Egg entitled The Egg to be found.
The main features on the disc, once you’ve digested the sneak peeks, are Adventure Is Out There and the Cine-Explore Commentary. The former follows the Pixar team as they embark on a trip to Venezuela to capture the ideas for the landscapes that they then put into the film. It’s interesting, not least for getting across the level of detail in the planning of the film. Freeze frame in high definition and you can read the whiteboard that sits in the background. That might just be us being a bit sad, though.
The Cine-Explore commentary features co-directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, and it’s a brilliant extra. They chatter their way through the film, bringing in art and early work as they do so. It’s intriguing, open and a must.
Finally, as for the film’s presentation? Not for the first time from Disney/Pixar, it’s stunning and reference quality. Up looks absolutely glorious in 1080p, with bright, sharp colours, sumptuous detail and the kind of transfer that makes you remember why you bought a decent telly in the first place. The surround sound mix is just brilliant too, and these production values continue through the disc extras as well. It’s stunning work.
In short? The first must-buy disc of the year. Roll on Toy Story 3…
The Film:The Disc: