Starring: (voices of) Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai
Directed by: Peter Docter (“Monster’s Inc.”) and Bob Peterson (debut)
Written by: Bob Peterson (‘Finding Nemo”)
While Pixar is far from perfect (“Cars” could have used a major overhaul), there’s no other animation studio doing the type of impressive work on such a consistent basis.
Add “Up” to the equation that has made the subsidiary of Disney Studios such a delight to watch ever since introducing us to Woody and Buzz Lightyear in 1995’s “Toy Story.” Fourteen years later, Pixar is still the animation groundbreaker.
In “Up,” directors/writers Peter Docter and Bob Peterson take on a species Pixar hasn’t experimented with before: humans (without superhuman powers, of course). The film follows retired balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) as he journeys to South America via a house attached to thousands of helium-filled balloons.
The trip was an adventure he and his wife Ellie always wanted to take together but was never meant to be when they were younger. Although they always saved money to move to the South American sanctuary known as Paradise Falls, something always came up that forced the happy couple to dip into their savings and put the vacation on hold.
But when Ellie passes away (an adult theme Pixar has never used before, which is probably why it earned only the second PG rating in its history…gasp), Carl wants to make their dream come true by traveling the only way he sees fit – in a floating house. He’s also not very interested in being forced into a senior living facility by city contractors who want to bulldoze his cherished home to make room for new buildings.
In an attempt to save his home and honor his wife, Carl drifts “Danny Deckchair”-style to start a new life in Paradise Falls. Unlike the 2003 film starring Rhys Ifans, Carl is not alone. Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young stowaway Boy Scout hoping to earn his Assisting the Elderly badge has ended up on the house’s porch and instantaneously becomes part of Carl’s long journey.
“Up” is a sweet story filled with touching moments especially when we watch the loving relationship between Carl and Ellie during the film’s first 15 minutes. Animated films usually never take the time to build characters this well. Once you wipe your tears away and are up in the sky with Carl and Russell, the comedy stays steadily fresh between the little boy and the old man.
Even when the story stutters during a not-all-too-interesting rescue mission on the ground, there are enough fascinating characters, smartly-written dialogue, and some subtly amazing 3-D effects (it is Pixar’s first, you know) that never play out like a cheap gimmick (see “Chicken Little” and “Fly Me to the Moon” for that). Instead, Pixar lets the work speak for itself. With “Up,” the film has a lot to say about loss, friendship, personal ambition, and living life to its fullest all in a deeply moving and enchantingly animated package.