29
May
2009
Review: Up
Review: Up
Jordan
There is little doubt in my mind that Pixar has the best track record of any studio around. It can be argued that they have yet to make a bad movie (I didn't see Cars myself, but I've never heard it was anything worse than mediocre), so when the new Pixar movie comes out, you can inevitably count me in. To say that I was excited to see Up would be an understatement"”I expected it to be nothing less than phenomenal, and I'm glad to say that its easily the best movie released so far this year (though, as a qualifier, it has been a fairly weak year so far).
The film opens with a young boy watching a news reel of his favorite explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) as he sets off for South America. On the way home from the film, the boy meets Ellie, a young girl with a penchant for adventure. Soon viewers are whisked, via an engaging, moving, and nearly wordless montage, through the lives that these two characters make together. They are married, they buy the house in which they met, and they begin saving to take their own adventure to the place where Muntz went before them"”Paradise Falls, South America. The segment beautifully captures an entire life"”both the joys, like picnicking together, decorating their house, and reading side-by-side, and the tragedies, from the pitfalls of everyday life that keep draining their vacation savings to their deterioration into an elderly couple, and finally to Ellie's death. Where their relationship ends, however, is where the film truly begins.
Carl Fredericksen (Ed Asner) is 78 when the story picks back up, and about to lose his house to a development project. He's pretty much your standard curmudgeon, annoyed by a neighborhood kid named Russell (Jordan Nagai), and ready to take his cane to one of the developers who destroys the mailbox he and Ellie built together. His act of desperate passion ends up costing him his house, and he must prepare to be shipped off to a retirement home. Carl doesn't plan to be defeated that easily, and so he rigs his house with thousands of balloons and takes to the sky, determined to have the adventure he and Ellie never got to share.
The film is surprisingly moving for one directed at kids, partially because of Asner's wearied, pained vocals. Carl misses his wife dearly, and still talks to her as if she was there. And Russell, the neighborhood kid who winds up tagging along on Carl's quest, is neglected by his father and desperately seeks approval. As the two wind up in South America, and Carl sets about pulling his own house (in an act of committed strength that is downright Sisyphus-ian) to the spot Ellie had dreamed of, they encounter some odd wildlife"”both a giant, rainbow colored bird, and a talking dog, who complicate Carl's quest.
The film is as visually dazzling as it is heartwarming; a gem of a story told in a way that both amuses and endears. Up lacks the tight plotting of some other Pixar projects, which allows it to wander to unexpected places, and actually makes it in many ways more tense and exciting. Several times throughout the movie I actually found myself on the edge of my seat, so committed to these characters that any potential danger legitimately worried me. The studio has always excelled at economy of storytelling, and that is present here too, with the opening montage serving as a perfect encapsulation of an entire life and brilliantly setting up Carl's character in a way that allows the audience to empathize with his grief and cheer for him even when he is off-putting towards the needy Russell. Pixar continues to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in children's movies and refuses to talk down to its audience, two qualities I greatly respect.
The movie is complex, both narratively and emotionally, yet it always has faith that the audience will keep up. With a perfect mixture of heartfelt emotion (both tragic, in Carl's remembrances of his wife, and heartwarming, as Carl forms a bond with Russell) and kid-friendly comedy (the talking dogs provide plenty of laughs for all ages), Up is a marvel of a movie from a studio that has proved gems are their stock in trade.

Grade: A
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