Principal Cast : Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Pete Doctor, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, John Ratzenberger, David Kaye, Danny Mann.
Synopsis: When an elderly man moves his house (via a large quantity of helium filled balloons) to journey to South America, as part of a vow to see a certain waterfall, he unwittingly drags along a young cub-scout and meets a crazy looking bird named Kevin. Together, they discover the true meaning of friendship, as well as showing us all just how amazing CGI animated films can look these days.
Magnificent. There’s very little more to say about Up that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere online or in print. Pixar’s latest film is a triumph in every regard, from it’s heartbreaking storyline to its gorgeous animation. Everything about this film screams perfection. Anything else I say about the film will merely be hyperbole and breathless wonderment.
Read on, faithful followers.
Up is a lovely story, up front. Carl, bereaved after his wife of many years passes away, find he’s never really done what both he and his wife once vowed to do: visit the magnificent Paradise Falls. So, when foreclosure on his house seems imminent, as well as being packed of to a retirement home, Carl does the only thing a sane, sensible man his age can do. He ties an enormous bunch of helium balloons to his house and floats it away. Although he wanted to embark on this last adventure alone, Carl soon discovers he’s managed to pick up a hitchhiker, in young Wilderness Explorer Russell, who’s intellect and spoken-words-per-minute are found to be mutually exclusive. When they eventually land at Paradise Falls, Carl decides to move his house closer to the actual falls themselves, to bring to an end his vow to his wife. In doing so, Carl and Russell encounter an enormous bird of tropical descendance who Russell names Kevin. They also meet a dog, Doug, who can speak via a special vocal device attached to his collar, whose intellect and vocal intonations are also mutually exclusive of anything resembling sensible. But the chief villain of the film is Charles Muntz, an Indiana Jones type explorer whom was thought to be lost somewhere in the mountains of South America (and dead), and who was once Carl’s idol. Muntz, it seems, has set up a Lord of the Flies-style existence on the tepui mountains Paradise Falls comes from. And he’s none to pleased that Carl has befriended the very bird Muntz has been hunting for decades.
Up‘s story is fairly simple, at least as far as each character is concerned. Carl is an elderly widower mourning the loss of his beloved wife. Russell is an eager young child, an eponymous tirade of emotional tidal-waves, both anger, frustration, joy and sadness, each in excruciatingly large volumes at impressively inopportune moments. Muntz, the central villain of the piece, is an empathetic character, and while perhaps not the dark-cloak-and-moustache-twirling-vagabond of past Disney adventures, he’s certainly one of the most humane. The characters themselves appear to be fairly generic, at least on the surface. Where the true magic of Up lies is in it’s ability to give these characters true depth and meaning, making every nuance and line of dialogue matter. Carl is the atypical widower, sullen and empty, filled with lifelong regret and a snarky cynicism for the people of today. But underneath that gruff exterior is a mournful soul, somebody with whom we attach emotionally due to the clever juxtaposition of unfulfilled life, something many of us can relate to. Carls desire to fulfil his promise to his late wife, to visit Paradise Falls, is less about the actual destination and more about the journey. And the clever dialogue and animation accompanying it only serve to make us feel sympathy for Carls plight. Russell, who could otherwise have been the most annoying child character in all of animated film, is the perfect foil for Carls crusty temperament. His blind faith in life and his own ability is never questioned through the film, although Carl finds him both a distraction from his quest, and an annoyance overall.
As with every one of their previous films, the lads at Pixar have again delivered a unique, emotional storyline which transcends the very nature of the medium. Investment in character development has never worked out so well as it does here in Up. Each and every character, from the most verbose to the silent, is given equal depth and development as an individual. Carl, being the focal point of the film, is far and away the most acutely developed, his mannerisms and characterisation a lovely mix of both Ed Asners’ vocal performance and the script he’s given to work with. Asner gives Carl a warm curmudgeonly feel, a kind of sulky old man with a heart of gold. You can feel his despair as he slowly slips further into depression at the death of his wife. You hear the quiver in his voice as he lands his floating house on Paradise Falls, knowing his vow is almost fulfilled.
Nagai, a newcomer to film, voices Russell with that obnoxiously inane childlike manner that makes us laugh our asses off. What the character does, though, is slowly grow on you through his somewhat lonely backstory. While outwardly Russell appears to be overcompensating for his home situation, he is in truth a very lonely, under-appreciated little boy. Carl recognises this, and does his best to help. Christopher Plummer does his best “insane Robinson Crusoe” voice, giving Muntz the manic edge required for this isolated character to work. Up deals a lot with isolation: Carl with his isolation from the world after his wife’s death, Russell isolation from his father, and Muntz isolation from his own fame. Carl deals with his isolation by trying desperately to keep the house he and his wife lived in exactly as she would have left it, complete with “her chair”, which Carl keeps by his own as he travels. Russell deals with his fathers lack of attention by overcompensating into an overachiever, effectively trying to win his absent fathers attention by being good at everything. Muntz deals with his isolation by breeding an army of talking attack dogs and ruling the tepui from his crashed dirigible. Sounds bizarre, but you’ll understand after watching this glorious movie.
I loved this film, and I doubt there’s anybody in the English speaking world who won’t identify, or empathise, with one or all of the characters on screen in this film. It’s witty, dramatic, heart-breaking and moving in equal doses, a lovely fable of exquisite emotional depth. The animation is, to say the least, breath-taking: from the wrenching opening montage with a young Carl and his soon-to-be-wife meeting for the first time, to the aching darkness of an elderly Carl seeking refuge from the changing world around him, to the lush green landscape of the tapui coupled with the barren, alien rock formations that penetrate the surface of the mountaintop as well, Up is another eye-candy feats for fans of animation. Anybody who says that a computer isn’t capable of producing art to stand up to hand-drawn animation simply must eat their words after watching Up.
It’s a testament to Pixar’s single-minded focus on character being the primary motivator for their films that they have had the success they’ve achieved in the years since Toy Story. Up, like The Incredibles and Finding Nemo before it, raises the bar to lofty new heights, something Pixar’s rivals must surely gnash their teeth at. Recent successes Wall-E and Ratatouille (the latter being their least successful film commercially, even if it is among their best creative work) only serve to propagate the notion that Pixar have yet to drop the ball on their creative endeavours. And with Up, another fabulous addition to their roster of classic films has been made. If you only see one animated film in your life, perhaps Up should be the one. Sheer brilliance.