Release Date: May 29, 2009
By Sean Chavel
The Pixar factory is such a giant in animation that even a novice movie fan can probably surmise their own personal lists of which one is their favorite. Pixar’s Up is their tenth feature in their endless streak of successes, and one knows – as a given – that their latest can’t possibly fail with audiences or with the critical community. The movie will have some staying power – and I mean that in terms of artistry, not box office weekend longevity. It encompasses elements that will please audiences of all ages.
Yet for all its wonderful moments, “Up” is one of my least favorites. “Cars,” with its arid middle and limited characterizations, is the only Pixar I haven’t liked. But with so many gems that have come out of Pixar, how can I complain? (“Toy Story” pics and “The Incredibles” are my faves, and repeat viewings of “Wall-E” have turned me into a believer.) “Up” is without a doubt a splendid escapist fantasy and a heartwarming parable, and certainly one of the summer’s welcome assets.
From the outset, the audience is invited to follow Carl Fredericksen (voiced by Ed Asner) through his entire life, starting with his pre-teens and continuing on to geriatric age where he has thick-rimmed glasses and a square jaw. In his youth he is too bashful to speak initially to Ellie (Elie Docter), a type-A personality who does all the talking. She will become his unyielding childhood friend and inevitably the love of his life. We get one of those inspired marriage in a montage sequences that covers a great chunk of Carl’s life within a few poignant minutes. They build a home together, share precious moments, attempt vacation plans, continually lose their travel savings, grow old and then death parts them. Carl becomes a widow a walker, decidedly a recluse with a cantankerous and mirthless spirit.
For Carl two’s a crowd, yet a pesky kid comes knocking at his door. Russell (Jordan Nagai) is a Wilderness Explorer Scout who asks the old man to help him get his final merit badge. To get rid of him, Carl sends Russell out on a wild goose chase. Meanwhile, Carl sees himself in an everyday battle against heartless real estate developers who want him out of his house. As a career balloon man, Carl decides to escape his current reality by attaching his house to 20,622 helium balloons so he can float high above the clouds and away. His destination is South America’s Paradise Falls, a journey he dreamed of taking with his late wife, and also the place where crotchety adventurer Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer) floats his dirigible.
Unbeknownst to Carl, little ragamuffin Russell has made himself a stowaway on his air-sailing house. When they get to South America, the kid could take taxi all the way home for all Carl cares. Eventually they land, but Carl misses his “X” spot where he planned on planting his house permanently. The helium is running low in the balloons, so he will have to come up with a few clever ways to get his house shifted to its correct spot. Carl elicits Russell to be his helping hand, but the two of them get sidestepped.
For a movie that promises the sky and more of it, “Up” stays grounded for too long a period of a time. Nothing in the South American jungle competes to the beauty of the house moving across the sky, and one wonders when the movie will take flight again. As added company, Carl does get beguilingly wrapped up with a chocolate-eating bird and a loyal dog who just wants to be loyal. With this rag-tag group you can count on that an adventure will ensue, but it’s the shedding of Carl’s hermit behavior that takes precedence. “Up” wants to tug your heartstrings, and many viewers will be touched by sentiment, but the magical house itself doesn’t get enough attention – interior-wise especially. Does the plumbing and furnace still work in this floating house? If details were filled in the comic possibilities could have been wondrous.