Up doesn't manage that. It's good, not great, Pixar -- an elegant and somber reflection on life's unfinished business and our tendencies to put even the biggest dreams on the shelf. And as we discovered with Cars, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille, even good Pixar trumps traditional animation from rival studios, and certainly deserves your time.
As Up begins, young Carl Fredricksen sits in a movie theater absorbing newsreels about his idol, adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), whose final quest takes him to South America to capture an enormous bird scientists claim doesn't exist. Carl's infatuation with Muntz -- and his unquenchable thirst for action -- leads him to fellow daredevil Ellie. For these outcasts, puppy love is the all-inclusive clubhouse for which they've been searching.
Up peaks early with a winsome, sentimental, five-minute flashback montage covering the decades Carl and Ellie spend together. Their life has highs and lows, culminating in a tearjerker of a shot that involves balloons -- the ultimate symbol of childhood exuberance -- and a casket. The sequence is vintage Pixar, humorous and heartbreaking but always advancing the story.
Up doesn't approach such emotional resonance once the main thrust of the story gets going, where Carl, now an old widower voiced by Ed Asner, ties enough balloons to his cherished house to elevate it off the ground and pilot it to South America, where he promised Ellie he'd take her so many years ago. Carl unknowingly carries a stowaway when Cub Scout Russell, an egg-shaped chatterbox voiced by Jordan Nagai, stands on the man's porch as his house lifts off. Together, they land in Paradise Falls, where Muntz and his pack of talking dogs suspect the duo of trying to steal the explorer's elusive bird (which Russell finds within minutes, luring him with chocolate and naming him Kevin).
Pete Docter (of Monsters Inc.) and Bob Peterson direct from the latter's screenplay, fashioning Up into a mature conversation about keeping one's promises. Russell routinely talks about his absentee father, who says he'll be at the badge ceremony if the boy earns his final pin for assisting the elderly. Carl promises to bring Ellie's house to Muntz's waterfall, then has to make good on a promise to take care of Russell. Even Kevin the bird needs Carl and Russell to help it get back to its hungry young, as promised.
But Peterson's script cuts corners. A conveniently placed storm helps transport Carl's house from an undetermined city to South America (he's not in Kansas anymore). It wasn't smart to have Russell find and befriend Kevin, managing in minutes what Muntz couldn't accomplish in decades. I even found myself bothered by the physics of Carl's floating house, a whimsical but impossible device that kept taking me out of the story. (I had similar problems with Remy the rat, who foolishly manipulated chef Linguini by strategically tugging his hair.) Carl's also the most nimble senior citizen I've seen since Cocoon, and he possesses the arm strength of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even the short film preceding Up, a cloud-and-stork comedy, is pleasant but unremarkable.
These nagging issues likely will float over the heads of pint-sized patrons, who will be amused by loyal Dug (Peterson), the talking dog, and enthralled by an aerial battle between Carl's crumbling abode and Muntz's powerful blimp. The aircraft is dubbed the Spirit of Adventure, by the way. I'd have been much happier if Docter and his team had instilled Up with its own adventurous spirit, however, instead of slapping the suggestive moniker on the side of a dirigible and calling it a day.
But not quite away.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 29th May 2009
Box Office USA: $293.0M
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 275 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 8.3 / 10
Director: Pete Docter
Producer: John Lasseter, Jonas Rivera
Screenwriter: Bob Peterson
Starring: André Kaminski as Anton 'Ziege' Ziegler, Jacob Matschenz as Adam 'Häschen' Hoppeczynski, Jonas Jägermeyr as Max Spackmann, Susan Hoecke as Natascha, Thorsten Feller as Hubertus, Florian Gärtner as Dicker Pförtner, Zoe Weiland as Valerie, Mareike Lindenmeyer as Ines, Sabine Kaack as Gabi, Marcus Kaloff as Klaus, David Montero as Juan, Eva Weißenborn as Frau Pakowski