Pixar has been around long enough now, and it's aesthetic has become firmly established enough, that the easy approach to evaluating each new film is to compare it Pixar's earlier releases. "Up," however, changes the expectations just a bit.
When we first meet Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner) he is a child in the Great Depression watching newsreel footage of his idol, explorer Charles Muntz, sharing his discoveries in Paradise Falls, somewhere in South America. The oddball Carl soon finds his match in fellow Muntz lover Ellie (Elie Docter). A montage quickly shows their life together -- fixing up their dream house; trying to save money to visit Paradise Falls, but never quite having enough; losing a baby and living childless; and finally Ellie's death, which leaves Carl alone and bitter.
This sets the stage for the main action, in which Carl not only escapes from the greedy developers who want to take his house, but also from the prison of his later years, by using balloons to fly his house away to Paradise Falls. Accidentally hitching along for the ride is overeager Nature Explorer scout Russell (Jordan Nagai). When they finally reach South America, they find a talking dog (Bob Peterson), a legendary bird and a few secrets about Muntz himself (Christopher Plummer). And, of course, it wouldn't be a Pixar movie without some lessons about the nature of family and cherishing the adventures of life.
The technical quality of Pixar's animation continues to evolve. While the characters are highly stylized takes on familiar animated "types," and the look of the scenery and camera work is the studio's most naturalistic yet. The aerial scenes are especially breathtaking.
Although there are some significant plot holes in the script by writer/directors Peterson and Pete Docter, they shouldn't be any concern for the young viewers who are ostensibly the main audience for "Up." But with the usual mix of comedy and action that are Pixar's hallmarks, Peterson and Docter have mixed in liberal doses of pathos, too. The many small compromises that get in the way of Carl and Ellie's dreams are vividly presented, as is the narrowness of Carl's later years. It's handled with a light enough touch to pass over the heads of younger kids, the message is unmistakable for the adult viewer.
It's this mix of humor and heavy subject matter that helps easily supplant "The Incredibles" as the most "adult" of Pixar's offerings so far. And it is also what makes "Up" so difficult to compare with Pixar's earlier efforts. Perhaps it is simply heralding the maturation of Pixar's vision, as the studio's earliest kiddie audiences are now moving into adulthood.
While "Up" may not be as flat-out fun as other Pixar films, the same message of living adventurously is still there, although it is delivered with some of the bitter pills of growing up.
"My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you. "
Of course, helium-filled balloons can't really pick up a house like that. And certainly not as many as shown in the movie. It would take a factor of more than 600 times more balloons to lift that much weight.
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939).
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