I defy you not to be charmed by the new Pixar movie, Up (such a non-descript title for such a fun film). In a field that is rapidly filling with vapid imitators, Pixar continues to keep itself above the others by creating lovable, fresh characters and heart-warming stories, even while skimping nary a pixel on its untouchably-superior animation. Up tells the tale of an old man, grown curmudgeonly over the years (and after the loss of his wife and childhood sweetheart) who embarks on a quest for the destination of his dreams (a beautiful mountaintop waterfall in Venezuela called Paradise Falls) by attaching his home sweet home to about a million helium balloons. While that concept alone might sound far-fetched and you might be exhaling puffs of air through your lips in disbelief, I have to say that it really works (and it’s not even the most far-fetched thing in this movie).
Beyond the bizarre story ideas (of which I won’t tell you any more because I don’t want to spoil a second for you), this is an exciting adventure story with some exhilarating action sequences. There is also a lot of Pixar’s trademark kid-humour-that-adults-will-enjoy. Top that off with some adorable characters: Jordan Nagai voices a totally squeezable little Asian (hooray!) boy scout named Russell who joins ol’ geezer Mr. Fredricksen (Ed Asner’s voice looking like an old-man bobblehead) on his journey. Together they have that kid-grouch relationship made classic by Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson.
I went to see this movie with a friend who works in the field, so I couldn’t help looking more critically than usual at the animation in Up. In my layman’s opinion, it was pretty stunning and technically impressive. I observed how scenes with fog were carefully done so that the fog was clearly in front of the background (it helped that we saw it in 3D — and you should too) and there was one scene near the beginning where we zoom in on a balloon and can see partially through it to the scene behind. Those kinds of details really put Pixar on the top of my list. I know this is not Project Runway, but I also loved the way they did fabrics. Just the idea of using a thicker weave, making the characters appear like little living dolls or toys made them so much cuter. There’s also a large number of dogs in the movie, and while they still don’t make the fur look 100% realistic, most of the dogs looked much more like real dogs with personalities rather than cartoons — we’ve come a long way since Pluto. (On the topic of the dogs, my friend and I had a little discussion about the way the dogs [spoiler alert] talked to humans throughout this movie. He found it a bit preposterous, but when I thought about it, it was more realistic than a movie like Bolt, where because all the characters were animals they just talk to each other. Pixar has, at least, tried to put a new polish on an old conceit.)
While I find that Pixar’s messages have been a bit weak over their last few films: wall-e with its environmental lament; Ratatouille with its “be true to your spirit”; and whatever Cars was supposed to be about (oh yeah, “nothing beats small-town charm”); Up has a more universal message about dreams, life, and the people we care about. I admit that a jaded, middle-age guy like myself actually found some connection to Mr. Fredricksen, and like a good Sunday sermon, Up even made me reflect on my own life a bit. I recommend that you give yourself and your family the same opportunity. (5 out of 5)