Up finally puts Pixar adventure in the forefront. Winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and becoming the second animated film ever nominated for Best Picture. Something that only happened once before with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Up was the first computer animated film nominated for the Oscar. As well as one of the first 3D movies nominated from 2009 (the other being Avatar). Needless to say, Pixar’s track record was due for Best Picture attention. The 2010 ceremony increased its number to 10, just to include more neglected genres like animation. Up asks the question, what if an old man went on an adventure without having to leave his house?
The reason behind the adventure makes Up one of the most realistic Pixar movies ever, but the method behind the adventure makes it one of the most unrealistic at the same time. Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter really knows how to drive a story with emotion. The idea came from a fantasy of his about escaping life. It was intended to be a space adventure similar to WALL·E, but all that changed when a grumpy old man became the lead. At 13 years old, I honestly didn’t know how to react to a house taking off because of balloons. I also wasn’t sure how any of it fit the Pixar formula, but Up is really about the concept of adventure more than anything else…
Up was shown with the Pixar short Partly Cloudy. A remarkably similar short where a cloud creates dangerous animals for an unlucky stork. Up may not be a non-human characters with emotions story like Pixar’s other work, but the choice of a senior citizen as the lead in a kid’s film was very unique. Yet it made a lot of sense considering children had their grandparents to compare him to. I was too young to really remember my grandparents, but I’ve been around enough elderly folks to relate. Up takes things all the way back to Carl Fredriksen’s days as a youngster. Carl sees a newsreel about his hero Charles F. Muntz. A famous explorer with the motto “Adventure is out there!” Muntz pilots a blimp built for his canine companions and explores the far reaches of Paradise Falls, South America. Muntz is disgraced when a rare bird skeleton he’s discovered is called into question. So he vows to stay in Paradise Falls until he captures the bird alive.
It’s enough to inspire Carl to be adventurous, but what he wasn’t expecting was a friend who loved adventure as much as he does. I was taken almost completely off guard by Ellie, because the trailer gave no indication of her presence. Carl is shy at first, but Ellie pushes him to be brave and retrieve his balloon. Ellie is a precocious aspiring adventurer with dreams of taking her house to Paradise Falls. Something Carl promises after crossing his heart. One of the most beautiful sequences in Pixar history comes when Carl & Ellie grow old together. There’s an unmistakable realism to their touching love story. From getting married, fixing up their abandoned clubhouse, picnicking under the clouds, wanting to have kids, but sadly not being able to have kids, trying to save up for an adventure, and ultimately growing old together.
All set to an amazing old fashioned score by the now three time Pixar composer Michael Giacchino. Becoming the first Pixar score to win Best Original Score. One of the most tear worthy Pixar moments ever, is Carl sadly losing his wife. Not since Finding Nemo has a Pixar movie made everyone cry at the very beginning. In the present, Carl Fredricksen has become a grumpy 77 year old man. Unlike most of the movies before it, Pete Docter intended for highly stylized characters. Carl has a very cartoony square head and small body. His white hair and glasses were meant to resemble Spencer Tracy in his later years. However, Ed Asner looks an awful lot like Fredricksen too. Asner’s spry elderly voice is a perfect match for Carl. The main animation challenge was properly rendering an old person. So Carl has wrinkles, a hearing aid, and a walking cane. Along with subtle movements and mannerisms that really go the extra mile. The cloth used on outfits just looks more and more realistic.
Like most senior citizens, Carl balances being lovable with being cranky. His current problem is a construction site that threatens to tear down his home. To cope with his wife’s death, Carl preserves her memory by preserving the positions in their house. A complex message that Pixar is more than prepared for. Since Up has a very small cast, John Ratzenberger pops up as a friendly construction worker. Then Carl is greeted by Russell. A young wilderness explorer who needs to get an “Assisting the elderly” badge. Russell is the first Asian lead (voiced by Asian child actor Jordan Nagai) in a Pixar film. Something I never gave a second thought because he’s just a normal kid. Carl gets rid of Russell by sending him on a wild Snipe chase, but things get worse for him when he unintentionally assaults someone with his cane. The blood and strong sense of peril are why Up was only the second PG rated Pixar movie. Carl is supposed to be taken to a retirement home, but he can’t forget the unfulfilled promise he made to Ellie.
It’s a truly magical moment when Carl’s house takes off after he’s attached hundreds of balloons to it. It’s best not to think about the science of it. Just appreciate the many colors and wonder of a house flying through the city and into the clouds. The only place you can find easter eggs like a luxo ball, Pizza Planet Truck, and a certain teddy bear. The instantly iconic house with balloons uses bed sheets as sails and is steered using a weather vane. Up is a brilliant 2 letter title since all the action is up in the air. Up truly perfected Disney Digital 3-D in a way that complements the computer animation without having to throw things at the audience. I didn’t see Up in 3D, but the colorful adventure was still a sight to see in theaters nonetheless. Things get complicated when Carl hears a knock on his front door. It turns out Russell somehow stayed on the house and becomes his unwilling travel companion. Russell & Mr. Fredriksen are an unlikely Pixar duo if I’ve ever seen one.
Russell is curious, talkative, and very much into the wilderness. After a dangerous thunderstorm, Russell uses his GPS to steer them to South America. Paradise Falls is a breathtaking sight based on the real tepui mountains of the area. If the flying house was unrealistic, than an old man and child weighing the house down is a serious suspension of disbelief. Russell plans to get his badge by helping Carl walk his house to the other side of the falls, but an even greater adventure awaits them. They encounter a unique large colorful bird who likes chocolate that Russell names Kevin (great name). Then they’re met with the unlikely sight of a dog. Dug is a Golden Retriever who can talk through the aid of a special collar. All the loyal thoughts of a loving canine are summed up by- “SQUIRREL!”
Dug is on a special mission that you can learn more about in the short Dug’s Special Mission. He’s the misfit of a pack of dogs tasked with finding the bird. Alpha is the intimidating Doberman pack leader with a hilariously high pitched voice. Together with Beta and Gamma, they manage to track down the travelers. But not before finding out Kevin is a mother needing to return to her babies in a labyrinth. An elderly Charles F. Muntz who must be over 100 by now, greets Carl & Russell as guests. Carl is in awe of his hero, but quickly learns that decades of hunting for the bird have driven him mad. Christopher Plummer rounds out the small but respectable cast as the surprisingly evil villain. Leading to a perilous chase that leaves Kevin injured. Carl selfishly chooses to save his house over Kevin, but he changes his tune when he revisits Ellie’s adventure book. Where it turns out ordinary married life was the real adventure afterall. A touching moment that shows we should appreciate the smaller things in life.
Russell flies off to save Kevin and Carl finally realizes the memory of his wife is more important than his meager possessions. The climax on the dirigible is a danger filled chase that turns Carl into an elderly action hero. Using his cane, hearing aid, and denchers as a weapon against Muntz in a funny senior fight. Meanwhile, Russell avoids literal dog fighting planes and Dug places Alpha in the cone of shame. Muntz makes one last attempt on the bird, but is outwitted and sent hurtling down. In the end, Carl becomes the adventurer he always wanted to be. But most importantly, Russell receives a grandfather figure who’s there for him. Up goes to show that if you want adventure, look no further than your own backyard.