Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on June 6, 2009 @ tonymacklin.net.
The previews for Up were not enticing.
They showed a grumpy old man and a dumpy little boy. This seemed a very pedestrian odd couple. They inspired little or no anticipation.
Up is Pixar Animated Studio's latest and 10th effort. I loved Finding Nemo (2003) and, especially, Ratatouille (2007).
I thought Up probably would follow in WALL-E's (2008) intermittently clunky footsteps.
Fortunately my preconceptions about Up were wrong. Way wrong. It shouldn't work, but it does. Buoyantly.
Up is an engaging, exciting, warm-hearted trip at the movies. Up starts slowly, but picks up helium and soars.
Up starts in the 1930s with Carl, a little boy who is an avid fan of the exploits of explorer Charles Muntz. Muntz's reputation is defamed, but Carl stays true to his hero's mantra, "Adventure is out there."
Carl meets a brash tomboy Ellie, and she invites him to join her club for dreamers.
Eventually Carl and Ellie get married, and her dreams of adventure take a back page to everyday life. She allows sweet realities to take the place of spicy adventure. But she has a scrapbook that keeps her dreams intact.
After she dies, Carl -- a retired balloon salesman -- lives alone in their Victorian house as modern civilization is built around him.
One day Russell -- a 9-year-old boy -- knocks on the door of his old house. Russell needs to help some aged person to get his final badge to secure status as Senior Wilderness Explorer.
Eventually Carl, who is to be placed in an old folks home, escapes in his balloon-carried domicile, accompanied by the intrepid little boy.
The not-so-dynamic duo head to South America and Paradise Falls, the goal of Ellie's dreams.
With their floating house in tow, Carl and Russell face challenges and adventures in South America as they seek to reach their chosen destination.
The South America portion of Up is where the excitement peaks, and it's surprisingly gripping.
There are several memorable characters in the South America locales. One of the key characters who effects the duo's trip is a squawking legendary bird Russell names Kevin. Kevin seems as though Pixar may have lifted him from a Warner Bros cartoon.
Another is a dog named Dug, who is a quivering mass of loyalty and gratitude. There is also a pack of fierce, but not very smart, dogs, led by a sleek, black, terrifying creature.
But this ostensibly-terrifying leader has a malfunction in his collar which renders his speech into an absurd high pitch, that completely undercuts his formidable image.
It's one of the canny touches that are amusing. Two of the main qualities that define Up are unique imagination and personality.
My favorite line is a joke Dug tells about a squirrel. It may not appeal to humans in the audience, but it's good humor for canines and doggone critics.
It's appealing that director/writer Pete Docter and writer/co-director Bob Peterson were willing to include such esoteric throwaway jokes.
Up is a personal film. Peterson voiced Dug, and Docter voiced Campmaster Strauch. Docter's daughter Elie voiced the young Ellie.
The voicing is excellent. Ed Asner humanizes Carl, and Jordan Nagai is convincing as Russell. Venerable Christopher Plummer is effective as the venerable villain.
An odd omission is the character of Russell's mom. There is a reference to her and she appears fleetingly at the end, but do Docter and Peterson have an aversion to moms?
It's odd that Russell doesn't miss her, or even think of her. Of course, Hollywood is the land of single dads.
Up joins the old world and new. It has a newsreel in a movie theater, a Victorian house, scrap books, snipe hunts, a dirigible, and grape soda.
And it also has a contemporary GPS unit, although that modern technology quickly disappears
In 1923 Buster Keaton made The Balloonatic. 86 years later Up enters the Buster Keaton stratosphere.
Up is an ingenious flight of fancy that would make the fabled Buster proud.