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Up

upposterstarring Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, and Jordan Nagai
written by Bob Peterson & directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Rated PG for some peril and action.
97%

Faced with being torn from his house to live out his days in a nursing home, geriatric widower and retired balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen (Asner) uses thousands of his helium-filled products to carry himself and his home out of reach. Once airborne, he sets sail for Paradise Falls, a magical lost world in Venezuela that Carl and his dead wife always dreamed of visiting one day. Just as he settles in, however, Carl is perturbed to discover an accidental stowaway: Russell, an 8-year old Wilderness Explorer who only needs to complete his “Assisting the Elderly” merit badge to make “Senior Wilderness Explorer.” Before Carl can set down to return the boy, the house is swept away in a storm, launching the two unlikely companions on a series of wild and increasingly implausible adventures.

Up takes the the phrase “flights of fancy” and makes it startlingly literal. Despite ostensibly being set in “the real world,” the movie pointedly and persistently ignores logic (but not storytelling logic) in favor of a sustained and terrifying balancing act of pure whimsy. The insanity begins with an elderly man who wants to relocate his entire house to a remote jungle on another continent using only a large number of ordinary balloons, but that truly is just a beginning. The audience will repeatedly be faced with a choice between whether to ask why in the world there is, say, a trio of talking dogs flying World War I biplanes or simply to roar with laughter at the imaginative absurdity of it. If you choose as I did, your sides may ache a bit by the time the film is over.

Up might have you laughing until you cry, but unless you have a heart of stone it is also likely to have you holding back tears of a different sort. The opening scenes of the movie, which follow the protagonist from childhood to old age with a marvellous economy, include what is among the most deeply-affecting five minutes I have ever encountered in cinema. I’m not sure there was a dry eye in house by the time it was done, and there was audible sniffling coming from all around the theater. You know the cliche about actors who think about their dogs dying in order to generate tears? I could think about this sequence in Up and cry right now. Pixar’s ability to evoke vast ranges of audience emotion, as well as communicate story and character personality, with just a few simple images is almost frightening.

As Pixar’s storytelling ability continues to mature, it has grown less sophisticated, not more. This is a deceptively simple story, in part because the writing and the animation are blended so flawlessly and efficiently together in service to one great vision. I would almost argue that Up is the first Pixar film that is not for kids at all. They will enjoy it, certainly, but thematically this is a movie written entirely for adults. Among other things, it is about mourning and loss and dreams deferred, all thinly disguised beneath a fun, noisy layer of 1930s adventure serial mayhem. The film’s destination is so subtly and skillfully woven into the fabric of the action that, when we reach Carl’s sudden epiphany in a lovely quiet moment just before the climax, I was caught emotionally off-guard by the beauty of its message.

Up is Pixar’s tenth feature-length film, and by now it is pointless and reductive to attempt to establish how much they have “outdone themselves” this time or to effectively rank the latest masterpiece in relation to the previous ones. Up is magnificent, but it is not my “new favorite” of Pixar’s films. It is not their most visually-impressive film to date, nor their most thrilling, nor even (astoundingly) their most imaginative. It may very well be, however, the most touching story they have yet told, and I have a strong feeling that it will be a sentimental favorite for many of the studio’s fans. Meanwhile, it is visually-impressive (and great fun as the first Pixar offering in 3D), it is thrilling, and it is imaginative, certainly more-so than the vast majority of films (animated or otherwise) that will be released this year. The latest Pixar release has been a highlight of my summer for the past few years, and this is no exception.

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~ by Jared on May 29, 2009.

2 Responses to “Up”

  1. Great review! I agree with every word.

  2. I totally agree with you! It has become a favorite of mine with little saying and things that I can relate to…

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