Pixar has made what I considered to be the best movie of the year two years in a row. Ratatouille and WALL-E were such strong, intelligent, beautiful, captivating, fun, and emotional films that redefined what animated films could be. They aren’t kid-flicks, but they are child-friendly. UP continues in this very tradition, providing a deeply emotional film about two characters at different ends of the age spectrum dealing with different kinds of loss, all wrapped under the guise of an adventure film. But even still, an adventure film where the main protagonist (Carl Fredricksen as voice by Ed Asner) and antagonist (Charles Muntz voiced by Christopher Plummer) are senior citizens? We’re not talking 55+ seniors, but Carl is at least mid-70’s and Charles more than 20 years beyond that. There’s wildly improbable inventions and physics at work, but the conceit that adventure and science fiction films from Carl’s era would display without issue would have a hard time existing in modern film and having the audience buy into it, but there’s something about a cartoon that makes it okay again, that makes it okay to say “we know it’s not real”.
There’s a profound sense of sadness to Carl and his unintentional boy-scout guide Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) in the film, but it’s their triumph over this sadness that is the meat. Of course Charles Muntz is the villain of the piece, but even his role is interesting in how his loneliness has manifested into delusion, and Carl’s boyhood hero worship is dashed by his madness and unscrupulousness.
There’s also dogs, talking dogs. Charles, in his loneliness, invented collars that allow dogs to speak. But they’re still dogs, easily distracted by squirrels, and committed to the chores they’ve been trained to do, such as hunt the snipe, a beautifully colored bird that’s like an ostrich crossed with a parrot. That Russell befriends a snipe sends Charles into a mad tizzy leading to the bulk of the confrontation.
The film is presented in “REAL D” 3-D, which isn’t my preferred way to watch a film. The depth it provides is interesting, perhaps even distracting at first, but once you settle into the film, it’s not even something you notice, essentially pointless, in fact.
Pixar has created an incredibly rich story with wonderful characters and made it fully accessible. It may not be as commercial or merchandiseable as Toy Story or Cars, but UP once again reiterates that you can make an animated feature that doesn’t have to be insufferably juvenile or a comedy.