Review: Up

Carl had a good life, but everything he loved is gone or disappearing. Fed up, he decides to fulfill both a promise and a lifelong goal with an adventure to South America ... flying in his house ... carried by helium balloons. Things get complicated by a boy, a bird, and a dog. The boy is 8 years old, the bird is 10 feet tall, and the dog talks; Carl gets more adventure than he bargained for. Up is a wonderful, smart exploration of what's important versus what we think is important, that doesn't resort to tired emotional gimmicks. I greatly enjoyed it.

Rated: 4.75 / 5

Up is the story of Carl. Carl had great happiness in his life. Now in his twilight years, Carl has only his memories as everything he loves and values disappears around him. Tired and fed up, he realizes there's a promise he still has to keep involving a trip to South America. He sets out with everything he values by turning his house into a helium balloon! His plans are complicated when a young boy named Russell accidentally comes along for the ride.

The first fifteen minutes of Up are totally back-story exposition. In a masterful piece of storytelling, the back story becomes a film within a film, with it's own story arc both in plot and theme. It could be taken from the movie and presented as a charming but bittersweet short film. This so solidly established Carl's character that I didn't just believe his motivation, I felt it on a visceral level. When Carl fears he won't succeed, I'm afraid too.

Carl's trip to South America, which is nothing less than a quest, is complicated by Russell. At first blush Russell is simply an eight year old in an awkward phase trying to do a good deed so he can earn a badge and become a Senior Wilderness Explorer. But even Russell's character isn't so simple. Over the course of the film we learn Russell has a more personal reason for earning his badge, one that motivates him every bit as much as Carl. Russell doesn't mean to be the catalyst for making Carl's life difficult, it isn't his fault chocolate is universally loved. Through a chain of events precipitated by Russell, Carl has to deal with a 10 foot tall bird, talking dogs, and ultimately the movie's villain.

Carl menagerie

And what a great villain! I think Up has the most menacingly evil villain of any Pixar villain to date. He's reminiscent of the Evil Queen from Snow White, and emanated a real sense of danger. This danger heightens the movie's climax as Carl fights to make things right. And the villain's origin injects some wonderful irony.

Up is an adult story of the type you'd expect in a drama. It faces the loss of a loved one head on and captures how bittersweet life can be. The writers did a brilliant job of bringing the appropriate dramatic notes into the cartoon without compromising the humour and optimism promised in the production style. Although I haven't talked with any parents about this, I'm sure there's enough humour and action to keep the kids interested in spite of the adult themes.

Do I need to talk about the animation quality? In each and every Pixar film the animation quality has been outstanding and Up continues the tradition. It establishes its own unique style, nicely reworking it with an antique feel for flashbacks. Up is available in the Disney brand of RealD Cinema 3D. The craftsmanship and storytelling in this movie is so good the 3D stuff did more to pull me out of the movie than enhance the story.

There are so many things I liked about Up, but I'll only mention one more.

The effortless comedy coming out of the characters simply being themselves is inspired. Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby capalized on the unselfconscious humour of kids in Kids Say the Darndest Things, and so does Up. And if dogs could talk, of course they'd ... squirrel ... sound like Dug and his pack brothers!

Up is exactly what I look for in a cartoon, fantastical elements on top of an excellent story. Although I could have done without the 3D, more power to the folks who get something out of the experience. Up is tied with Star Trek for my favourite movie of the summer.

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1 comment

Paul G wrote 12 years 14 weeks ago

Bender = Doug.

This movie gave me a great insight into what my lab was think....squirrel...

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