Curmudgeonly widower Carl Frederickson lives alone in his house, surrounded by rising skyscrapers whose developers want him to move. His only company is a picture of his late wife, Ellie, and their adventure scrapbook, the last reminder of Carl’s promise to Ellie that they would move to Paradise Falls in South America in honour of their shared childhood hero, explorer Charles Muntz.
In a potential homage to Wall-E, Pixar Animation Studios’ previous offering, Up has very little dialogue in its first 20 minutes or so, traversing Carl’s childhood, marriage, and adulthood to his initial senescence.
But after a confrontation with a construction worker, in the face of a court order that he relocate to an assisted living home, Carl resolves to make good on his promise to Ellie: the morning he is to be moved, he unfurls an enormous assemblage of helium balloons which lift his house off its foundations, and begins his journey to Paradise Falls.
Directed by Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
Voices by Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo
Joining Carl on his adventure is a Wilderness Explorer (Cub Scout) named Russell, a hapless child who stowed away by accident in his desire to help Carl in some way, thereby earning himself his final scouting badge for “assisting the elderly.”
After landing near Paradise falls, the unlikely pair meet a rare and enormous bird, which Russell names Kevin, and a dog named Dug equipped with a translator which vocalizes his thoughts in English, right down to non sequitur interjections of “Squirrel!”
To Carl’s surprise, Dug’s owner is none other than Charles Muntz himself, but when the explorer reveals his own designs on Kevin as a scientific specimen, a chaos of fallen idols, changing loyalties, chases, and literal dog fights in biplanes ensues.
Full credit goes to Pixar for daring to craft a movie without any aspect of a love story to anchor its narrative, and moreover one whose main characters are so unorthodox (Carl and Russell are unquestionably homo sapiens, but they often seem less human – and certainly less sympathetic – than the mute, metal-and-binary stars of Wall-E). However, Up gains most of its mawkish emotional energy from a bombastic score by Michael Giacchino, so even though the kids will laugh and they’ll cry, it won’t make the same kind of impression on grown-ups.
Up’s ultimate message, again echoing Wall-E, is one of environmentalism and respect for nature, but adorned with the idiosyncracies of a whole host of humans (though there are fewer female characters than even Kubrick often used), canines, and other characters it doesn’t seem quite as unabashedly political here.
Perhaps the most significant development is that Up is presented in Disney Digital 3-D where available, making it the first Pixar feature to be made available in that format. When balloons pop or objects explode, bits and pieces appear to come flying off the screen; and the film’s many scenes of Carl’s balloon-buoyed house floating through fluffy white clouds (and a raging thunderstorm) seem designed specifically to take advantage of this technology.
Up may not be quite the timeless, boundary-defying story Wall-E managed to capture, but Pixar is hardly resting on its laurels with a release of this calibre. Kids will love it, especially in 3-D, and the introductory short film, Partly Cloudy, is Pixar’s best to date, sure to earn laughs even from the most cantankerous viewers.