Movie Review: Up
Every time Pixar releases a new film, one wonders, "Is this the one that breaks the long string of phenomenal critical and commercial success?" I mean, surely a film studio can't continue to release inventive, profitable movies ad infinitum, right? It's just too implausible; even the very brilliant have slumps. Christ, the gold standard that is the Coen Brothers made the god-awful The Ladykillers, didn't they?! And yet...Pixar keeps churning out absolutely top-notch work and -- against all probability -- Up may just be their best film yet.
The film opens with a brief review of the long and very happy life shared by Carl and Ellie Fredricksen. With a lovely simplicity, the effortless harmony of their relationship is communicated wordlessly. Indeed, all is well until -- almost shockingly for an animated family film -- Ellie dies and leaves Carl alone, quickly throwing his world into chaos. Heartbroken and defeated -- and assailed by the outside world -- Carl decides to go on one final adventure. He's going to fly his house to its final resting place atop Paradise Falls in South America.
Initially, everything goes as planned. In a completely absurd yet thrilling piece of cinema, Carl's house is ripped from its moorings by thousands of balloons and floats out of the city. Carl is a renewed man as he pilots his unlikely vessel through the urban canyons. And then -- when the house is thousands of feet up -- there's a sudden knock at the door. Uh-oh. The knock, of course, comes from Russell, the portly and hyper young scout who'd been trying to earn a merit badge by "aiding the elderly". Carl has an unwelcome stowaway.
After a brief joust with a forbidding thunderhead, the pair quickly make their way to South America and find Paradise Falls without undue difficulty. Another problem quickly presents itself, though. Many balloons were lost during the tussle with the storm and the house has lost considerable lift. Worse, they are still some distance from Paradise Falls, but the balloons are gradually losing their helium. What to do? In one of the many wrinkles that define the fantastical universe of Up, they simply pull the house like a floating wagon.
To say more -- and what I've described so far is only the first ten minutes -- would spoil the constant delights that pop up as the film unspools. Friends have said that Up didn't really capture their imagination based on the trailer. Let me assure you that -- unlike most movies -- the trailer for Up doesn't spoil the best parts of the film. In fact, I'd guess that none of the funniest scenes in the film are represented in the advertising. For instance, Dug the Talking Dog seems silly in the trailer, but is both hilarious and poignant in the film.
Up covers much of the ground that is endemic to the Pixar brand. There is plenty of humor and whimsy; there is a journey; there are fabulously unique characters and complex storytelling. What Up has in greater measure than previous efforts, though, is a wisdom about the seriousness of life. Carl is a lonely old man who lost the love of his life. Russell is a fatherless kid who desperately wants someone to fill that void. Together, they may not repair each other, but they do make each other genuinely happier. That may not sound grand, but it is.