WARNING: SOME SPOILERS FOR ALL THOSE WHO HATE THEM THINGS.
Pixar has built its rep on being a true animation groundbreaker, a skillful storyteller and highly successful producer of entertainment for kids and their parents forced to watch their movie a hundred times or more. They kept this winning streak going with their tenth effort, Peter Docter and Bob Peterson’s Up.
The movie is about “curmudgeon” named Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Ed Asner). Previously, he had lived an ideal life with his late wife Ellie (voiced by Docter’s daughter, also named Ellie). The two had dreamed of exploring the world, much like their idol Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). When they finally get the money together, their hopes are tragically dashed. To top it, land developers find a way to force Carl out of the home he and Ellie basically rebuilt from scratch.
The old man’s solution? Being a former balloon salesman, he bundles together several thousand of the helium-filled orbs, straps them to his chimney and lifts the domicile from the rafters and into the great beyond. Carl’s dream is to explore the uncharted regions of South America, much like his idol Muntz. What the old grump doesn’t realize is he’s going to pick up a number of rather, well, unique traveling companions along the way, including a Wilderness Explorer scout, a very loving and naïve dog who just happens to talk, and a chocolate loving beastie that has a long history with Muntz. From there, Frederickson and company are going to have the adventure of his entire 78-year life.
Giving out this much of the storyline really shouldn’t concern potential viewers. Like any good story, the main plot line is only the tip of the iceberg.
Like his previous effort, Monsters Inc., Docter packs his film with what seems like an incredible amount of trivia, but in the end it all adds up to one truly fleshed out story. For instance, the Wilderness scout Russell (Jordan Nagai) at first seems to be nothing more than an innocent foil to Frederickson’s churlishness. Yet, as the tale continues your realize there’s something else under the surface, a boy in search and in need of a parental figure. One could say the same thing for Dug, the talking dog (Peterson). The Most important story is Frederickson, however, after finally realizing that despite the loss of his beloved wife and advanced years, he can sill connect with others.
While this film employs Disney/Pixar’s own version of 3D, it doesn’t make much difference. The truth is Docter proved he can work in three dimensions when he did the door combat sequence in Monsters. With Up he actually manages to top that bit of breathless animation with an air combat sequence that absolutely be used in future text books as how to use all three dimensions for their maximum effect.
Credit must also be given to all the animators who worked on the film’s intensely amazing background scenery. Whether it’s the steep, cliff-like climbs of Paradise Falls, a seriously dense Uruguay tropical jungle or simply just clouds in the sky, these background designers invest the backdrops with such gorgeous detail one can stare at them for hours.
The very small voice cast is just as good. Yes, Asner is basically just doing his Lou Grant gruff voice all over again, but it works. Nagai and Ellie Docter may be child actors, but they put in more than their share of enthusiasm in their respective roll. Also, if Bob Peterson decides to ever just be a voice actor, he’s earned the right. The man has a very twisted sense of humor, and it really comes through when he voicing his various dogs. The only person who sometimes feels he’s mailing it in at times is Plummer. As Muntz, he never quite expresses how truly deranged that character is…and that’s truly a shame considering the number of Hammer horror films Plummer has done in his lifetime.
One can’t quite say the same for the character designs. Docter admits he went intentionally abstract with his main characters. Fredrickson is build out of cubes. Russell is an almost perfectly egg-like ovoid. Muntz is basically a pair of inverted triangles. They are almost too simplistic and, particularly in the case of Carl and Russell, it takes away from their overall expressiveness. Also, the character movement suffers, particularly when the two heroes have to move at a fast pace. It’s about the only real negative though.
So, what do you have when you add it all up? Quite frankly Up has continued Pixar’s tradition of coming up exceptional when it could just coast on its laurels. I can’t wait to see what they do with their next one, Cars 2.