2009 | Director: Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) | Writers: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
It’s partially true that the cohesiveness of both “Ratatouille” and “Wall-E” was what made them each so superb—the visuals, theme, score, and the like all went toward making accessible and rewarding films for families in a collective way, but then, that’s how Pixar has done it from the beginning (save for “Cars,” the one mediocre smudge on the studio’s resume). Therefore, it’s almost surprising that such a scattershot, episodic affair as Pete Docter’s “Up” is just as excellently deep and moving as its more tonally consistent predecessors.
Gaining momentum through a strikingly sad opening act, “Up” follows balloon salesman Carl (Ed Asner) through his life with wife Ellie, a similarly adventure-minded girl with whom the otherwise-grumpy boy finds love. When real life and old age find Carl alone and soon-to-be forced from his home, he resolves to visit the places his wife never could—specifically, the idyllic cliffs of Paradise Falls in South America. But his whimsical journey of planned solitude (by balloon-guided house, in all its iconic imagery) goes awry when a young, do-gooder stowaway, Russell (Jordan Nagai), insists that Carl aid him in protecting a mythical bird from the selfish clutches of Carl’s childhood hero, adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer).
The plot is harebrained, clunky, and most noticeably, jarring in its too-quick shifts from solemnity to slapstick humor. But the plot is only a small part of the otherwise-charming whole of “Up,” which relies heavily on the dreams and determination of its crisply-drawn characters, from the very human types of Carl and Russell to the hilariously-eager talking dogs (don’t ask) that pepper the funnier scenes. The juxtaposition of the alternately barren and lush locales with the Pixar team’s unearthly colors and sharp character design accentuate the plight of the protagonists, yet all the visual flair pales in comparison to the breathtakingly adult themes behind the look. At its heart, “Up” is about how any lonely soul deals with loss and longing, yet the same Pixar undercurrent of hope that surfaces in all their great films works doubly well here: that companionship and kindness can salve any wound, and no amount of ill will can subdue a truly hopeful heart.
Rating: Four of Five Stars