***** (out of 5)
May 29, 2009
Edward Asner as CARL FREDRICKSEN
Christopher Plummer as CHARLES MUNTZ
Jordan Nagai as RUSSELL
Bob Peterson as DUG
Directed by: Pete Docter
BY KEVIN CARR
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Over the years, there are some things that you can be certain about: death, taxes and Pixar. Of those three, Pixar is the only really positive thing one can look forward to each year. You just can’t go wrong with Pixar.
“Up” is the tenth film the seminal animation house has released in cinemas, and it continues the string of quality films that transcends regular cartoons and kids movies. Since the release of “Toy Story” in 1995, the Pixar movies have only been degrees of greatness rather than good or bad. Most people can tell you their favorite (for me being “The Incredibles” and “WALL-E”) and their least favorite (for me being “Cars”), but even the least favorite are still considered great films.
The trend is still going strong with “Up.” This is truly a unique film that focuses on the hopes and dreams of a man near the end of his life. Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Edward Asner) met Elle, the love of his life, when he was only a child. Over the years, they had a rewarding and wonderful life, and their only regrets were that they were unable to have children and never had the money to travel the world.
Eventually, Elle passes away, and Carl finds himself at the end of his life. When it becomes clear that the rest of the world is moving on without him, Carl embarks on the adventure he always wanted by tying thousands of helium balloons to his house, which lifts him off towards a strange and wonderful new world. Along for the ride is an overly zealous Wilderness Explorer named Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), who is trying to earn his merit badge for assisting the elderly.
Like the rest of the Pixar canon, “Up” is the kind of film that can warm even the coldest of hearts. The movie encompasses multiple stories and weaves them together brilliantly. It begins with the life-long love story of Carl and Elle, which is summed up in only minutes at the start of the film. There’s also the story of Russell, who has the challenges of an absent father.
As simple of a tale as it is, “Up” still defies explanation. Instead of following a traditional storytelling path, the movie is instead an experience. It has all the elements of the grand jungle adventures from 1930s and 1940s serials, but it has all the heart you’d expect from a Disney film.
“Up” also breaks from the Pixar tradition of a supporting cast of silly characters. Unlike “A Bug’s Life” and “Finding Nemo,” we only have Dug (voiced by co-director Bob Peterson), a simple-minded dog that has a speech collar. Dug embodies the fascinating simplicity of a dog, always wanting to please and easily distracted. Anyone who has ever owned a dog will find plenty to love about this character.
There is a villain to the story as well, an aging explorer who is trying to find an elusive and mysterious bird. His army of speaking dogs provide plenty of comic relief, and the bird itself becomes a voiceless yet sympathetic character.
In addition to just being a brilliant film, “Up” is the first Pixar movie presented in 3D, although there have already been several Disney animated features that use this technology (e.g., “Chicken Little,” “Meet the Robinsons” and “Bolt”). It does surprise me that Pixar has taken so long to present this because it truly enhances the moviegoing experience.
Rather than relying on gimmicks and cheap 3D effects, the crisp and sharp digital process immerses the viewer even more into the film, bringing the vibrant and colorful animation out of the screen. According to director Pete Docter, the 3D process will become the new standard for Pixar animation, continuing its trend of being on the leading edge of filmmaking.
“Up” is a sweet, tender film that is easily one of the best films of 2009, and with its 3D experience, it is the first film of the summer that is a must-see in the theaters.