Young Carl (voice of Jeremy Leary) and tomboy Ellie (voice of Elie Docter) are the best of friends and share their dreams with each other. Ellie, in particular, fancies having a great adventure: flying a dirigible to remote Paradise Falls in the wilds of South America and living there. But, sometimes dreams don’t go as planned and, instead of a wild, action–packed existence, the couple lives a long, quiet and happy life together. That changes when Ellie dies and Carl (voice of Ed Asner) has nowhere to look but “Up.”
Usually, when we get and animated adventure film, it is aimed at kids but has enough to keep the adults interested for the duration. “Up” is the exact opposite. It is a story aimed at grown-ups with enough to keep the kids occupied and happy. And, filmmakers Pete Docter and Bob Peterson hit their mark with technical skill, artistic acumen and some damn good story telling.
We get a whirlwind look at Carl and Ellie’s life together, starting with their first meeting when they become best friends. As they grow up, that friendship turns to love and they marry, try to have children (but cannot) and grow old and happy. But, nothing (except, maybe, love) is forever and, one day, Ellie dies and leaves Carl alone for the first time in his long life. The old balloon-seller accepts his lonely existence and marks out his remaining days with a solitary routine. That is, until he comes across an old journal that Ellie showed him when they were kids. This triggers memories of her big dream to fly to Paradise Falls.
Meanwhile, the big city is encroaching on his once idyllic home and a greedy land developer wants the 78-year oldster’s little house. When one of the construction workers accidentally crashes into Carl and Ellie’s mailbox, the widower snaps and assaults the worker. He is judged a menace and the court orders that he be placed in a nursing home. Carl appears to meekly go along with the judgment but the shrewd old guy has one trick left up his sleeve and he devises a plan to save the house and fulfill Ellie’s dream. This is only the beginning of an epic adventure that takes him, and an unexpected stowaway, Wilderness Adventure scout Russell (Jordan Nagai), across thousands of miles to Paradise Falls.
If you have seen the ads for “Up,” you know it has something to do with a house being flown through the air by thousands of helium filled balloons. That, of itself, has great anime potential but the script, by Bob Petersen, takes the premise a quantum leap and the result is about as perfect as can be. There are only a few characters in this sprawling epic but they are some of the most memorable and real, ever. Ed Asner is marvelous giving voice to Carl and the character the makers create is genuine. Jordan Nagai helps make Russell a likable, funny, but lonely, kid who has found a friend in Carl. Joining them is a talking dog named Dug (helmer Peterson), who acts exactly as you would expect a talking dog would act. You also get class acts with Christopher Plummer as the good guy/bad guy, adventurer Charles Muntz and Delroy Lindo as the alpha talking dog, Alpha.
The spectacular CGI animation, the best that Pixar has ever done (and that is saying a lot), is enhanced, not overshadowed, by the beautiful 3D effects. Nothing jumps out at you, as is the norm, and this makes the special effect an integral part of the beauty of “Up/”
I can’t say that “Up” is the best movie made by the CGI masters at Pixar. I can say, though, that there is none better. This is a brilliantly conceived and executed effort that, as far as I can tell, is flawless in story, technology and artistry. I do not say this often, and not for many years – I give it an A+.
As a young boy, Carl Fredricksen (voice of Edward Asner, TV's "Lou Grant") idolized explorer Charles Muntz (voice of Christopher Plummer) whose exploits he followed via Movietone newsreels at the cinema. One day, he meets up with the irrepressible Ellie (voice of Elie Docter) in an abandoned local house and, bound by their common interest, becomes indoctrinated into her club. The two become partners for life, but their dream of traveling to South America's Paradise Falls is unfulfilled when Ellie Dies. As circumstance become worse for the widowed Carl, he decides to honor Ellie by making that trip - by creating a flying system with thousands of helium balloons which will take his entire house "Up."
With its tenth film, Pixar has seemingly raised its own stakes, delivering a tale of such richness, such poignancy and such incredible imagination that one can only marvel at their dedication to the art of storytelling. Not since "Monsters, Inc.," which just happens to be on the resumes of writer Bob Peterson ("Finding Nemo") who codirects for the first time with Pete Docter ("Monsters, Inc."), has a Pixar film been this damn good with its Oscar worthy writing, animation, production design and score (Michael Giacchino, "Star Trek," TV's "Lost," "Fringe"). Every Hollywood hack who's been churning out soulless tentpoles for the past decade should be forced to take a class from these masters.
As in Columbia Pictures' underrated "Monster House," a widower turned sour by the loss of his wife uses his house as a means of finding her again - but "Up" is vastly different in tone, perspective and story. Carl may have lost his beloved Ellie, but their home is full of memories. There are the pictures of her from the little girl in aviator goggles he first met through their wedding and beyond, her chair sitting next to his, her adventure scrapbook. Even the big glass jar labelled 'Paradise Falls' where they used to toss spare change is still there (and in a much-remarked upon montage, which silently encapsulates a decades long marriage into a few incredible minutes, we see how that fund was depleted over the years for the unexpected expenses that arise in life). He persists with a daily routine and as a holdout to the redevelopment which encircles him, until an unfortunate outburst causes the law to step in. The next day he's off.
But as soon as he's set his sails to head south, climbed over the clouds and relaxed in his chair - there's a knock at his front door? Turns out he has an unintentional stowaway, Russell (voice of Jordan Nagai), the explorer scout intent on earning his badge for assisting a senior citizen whom Carl gleefully sent on a snipe hunt (and it is a great credit to Robinson's script that it is a snipe hunt which Carl will find himself on). Carl allows the boy in, intending to send him home on a bus as soon as he lands. Before that even happens, the two begin an adventure when they must navigate through a thunderstorm. Russell navigates to Paradise Falls, but they've fallen just a bit short. As Carl and Russell attempt to move the house like a Macy's Thanksgiving balloon, they run into a most unusual bird, some most unusual tracking dogs and Carl's very own childhood hero, Charles Muntz, and his amazing dirigible.
There are screenplays which embed symbols and leitmotifs which wear their cleverness on their sleeves and there are screenplays like "Up," which do the same without calling attention to themselves. And so we have a shot of Ellie in that montage holding a parrot to foreshadow her intent in a choice Carl must make. In fact, just about everything in "Up" goes back to that incredible montage which switches gears from a scene of two lovebirds cloudwatching on a hill (and watch those clouds!) to the loss of a child. In Pixar's "Ratatouille," I never quite bought the idea that a rat could 'control' a human chef by pulling on his hair, but here we have talking dogs, explained by Muntz's invention of a collar that acts like a speech synthesizer, and they can be quickly accepted (and once we accept them talking, it's easy to imagine them cooking and serving dinner).
Of course Carl is tested in "Up" and I felt punched in the gut by the emotional flood that followed Carl's transference of frustration, calling the optimistic and loyal Dug a 'bad dog,' and then a surge of pure happiness when he greets the dog later with open arms. And with this simple reversal of emotions, Peterson has summed up his entire point - that when something is lost, one mourns, but then moves on to the living in order to experience love again. The overweight American Asian Russell, who dreams of becoming a senior explorer scout without ever having erected a tent outdoors, exemplifies this, although we do not know it until late in the game when Carl has opened up enough to actually listen to the boy.
On top of its exquisite story, "Up" is knockout gorgeous to look at, from animation that gets the tiniest textural detail just right to a color palette as beautiful as a sunset. Kevin, the multi-hued bird adopted by Russell, is a unique creation, a kind of road runner crossed with a peacock with the size and honk of a camel. There are skyscraper gullies and jungle canyons and homes that fly and dirigibles that are flying museums. And still, there is the realism of a house breaking free from its foundation complete with gas meter and the stubble that appears on Carl's (very square) chin. Giacchino's score harkens back to adventure movies from the time of Carl's Movietone reels and it's as brilliant as the rest of the film.
"Up" has a rather conventional coda, which extends into the end credits as a series of still 'photographs,' but not only is it thoroughly earned, it is a beautiful parallel to the story and photos which began the film. Pixar has knocked another one far, far out of the park. A+
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