(c) 2009 Ray Wong
Pixar has a lot at stake with their 10th animated feature, UP. The premise – about a senior citizen lifting off in a house strapped to a thousand balloons – seems unlikely for a hit. And after having nine critically and financially successful films, will Pixar fall?
We first meet Carl (Edward Asner) as a young boy who dreams of being an explorer, much as his idol Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Then Carl meets young Ellie (Elie Docter) who is just as much an explorer at heart as Carl is. The two hit it off. They eventually falls in love and have a long, loving marriage.
But then things change, and Carl – now a retired balloon salesman -- suffers from depression and becomes a recluse. When he’s forced to evict his house and move to an old folks’ home, he decides to tie a thousand helium balloons to his house and fly off. His plan works out well until he discovers a stowaway – boy scout Russell (Jordan Nagai), who is determined to earn his merit badge by offering his assistance to Carl.
Together, they set off to find Paradise Falls, a place where Ellie had always wanted to visit with Carl before real life interfered. On their way, they come across an exotic bird, talking dogs, and eventually Muntz himself. Carl doesn’t expect an adventure of a lifetime, but that’s exactly what he gets.
The voice talents all do great work here. Veteran actor Edward Asner (Elf) gives the cranky Carl a solid and expressive voice. His strong, characteristic voice has both warmth and authority. Christopher Plummer (The Lake House) gives Charles Muntz a charismatic and powerful voice. Newcomer Jordan Nagai gives Russell a wonderful, spirited voice without being annoying or overly cute. Writer/director Bob Peterson also provides the voice for Dug the talking dog, one of the most lovable characters in the film.
Pixar’s masterpieces all have one thing in common. Okay, they have many things in common, including great animation and colorful characters. But they all start with great writing and great stories, and UP is no different. Written by Bob Peterson (Ratatouille), the story is at once simple and layered, straightforward and complex, funny and touching. There is a dialogue-less montage near the beginning that must be one of the most poignant in movie history. The dialogue throughout the film is snappy and witty, and there are many funny moments, as well as intense and sad moments. In fact, the story covers so many emotions that it may be, sometimes, a bit overwhelming for the young kids. A few scenes could be too intense and scary for them. So parents beware!
The direction of Bob Peterson and Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) is top-notch. They manage to combine so many different elements ranging from romance, heartbreaks, abandonment, loneliness, depression, nostalgia, sadness into a hilarious piece of action-adventure that has the audiences spellbound from first scene to last. Between the funny bits and over-the-top action, there are lovely and poignant moments that make us think about our own lives and relationships. They have succeeded in creating a balance with just the right mix. The pace is excellent, and the animation is gorgeous, of course. Michael Giacchino’s original score fits the film perfectly. Over all, it’s one handsome film.
What Pixar has done, though, over and over again is that they use the best animation technologies and techniques to tell a great story. Characters and story always come first, and it is the basis for Pixar’s success. After ten movies, you’d think Pixar will slack off at least a bit. Not a chance; they’ve delivered every single time, and UP is another triumph.
Stars: Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, John Ratzenberger
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Writer: Bob Peterson
MPAA Rating: PG for some peril and action
Running time: 96 minutes