Movie Review: Up
By Matthew Huntley
June 11, 2009
Where does Pixar come up with this stuff? Year after year, the most beloved animation studio in the world proves why they're the most beloved. In what's fast becoming a summer tradition, Disney and Pixar have once again combined forces and found a way to sweep us away on a cloud of happiness and wonder. That may sound cheesy, but I think many would agree it's true. The boldness, vision and creativity of a Pixar film know no bounds, and what's most impressive is how consistently high-quality the movies are, despite each one having little in common.
The "stuff" I refer to with Up is the story of a grumpy old widower named Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner), who decides to float his house to South America and live the rest of his life atop Paradise Falls. This is where his beloved late wife, Ellie, dreamed of going her entire life - ever since she and Carl met as kids. But then life happened, and something always got in the way when they started saving their money in a glass jar. Now that Carl is alone and being forced into a retirement home, he fills up thousands of balloons with helium and heads for the open sky.
The inventive screenplay by Bob Peterson, who also co-directed the film with Pete Docter, doesn't stop there. Accidentally joining Carl on his trip is a portly young fellow named Russell (Jordan Nagai), who desperately wants to earn his "help the elderly" badge for his Wilderness Explorer group. The two embark on a bizarre adventure on the other side of the world, where they encounter a wild bird, a talking dog (well, sort of), and a famous American explorer (Christopher Plummer), who desperately wants to prove he's not a fraud. How each of these characters interplay, and what situations they come upon, I'll not reveal, but like many Pixar films, Up make it hard to guess.
If it's the look of a Pixar film you adore, Up will only make you fall more in love. The movie is richly detailed, grand and awesome. There's always something mesmerizing in the picture, with its bright colors, odd shapes and funny caricatures. The scene when Carl takes off in his house is truly inspired, with only the music of Michael Giacchino filling the soundtrack.
Although presentation is important, what I love even more about Pixar movies are the stories, which have seemingly endless possibilities. They are almost impossible to predict, and yet, with each passing scene, it's hard to imagine a better direction they could have taken. For me, Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille are the best of their kind, probably because they seemed to take the most risk and were the most difficult to pull off (Toy Story 2 because it was a sequel to an already exceptional original, yet still managed to be superior; and Ratatouille because the idea of a rat becoming a chef was a tough sell but one the studio pulled off seamlessly).
But to think others like The Incredibles, Wall-E and now Up even hold a candle to those movies suggests Pixar has some of the most talented storytellers in the business. With Up, they bring us humor, heartfelt emotion, action and adventure all in one fell swoop. I'm not quite as head over heels in love with the picture as other Pixar ventures (as wonderful as the screenplay is, the overall story arc felt traditional and safe), but when I look back on the film, I still laugh and swell up (there's one line that's delivered so pitch perfect, and carries such heavy emotion, I'll never forget it).
The bottom line is the folks at Pixar know what cinematic entertainment is all about—that it's meant to affect us on a number of levels, and more often than not, gives us something to feel good about. Pixar movies make us happy, and it's near impossible to say anything bad about them because of the utter pleasure and imagination they bestow upon us. Sometime down the line, I would love to know how the studio would handle a straight drama or tragedy, but for now, I'll take Up, which is light, breezy and often brilliant in the way it makes us smile. Where do they come up with stuff? I'm not exactly sure, but I'm grateful they do.