On paper, Pixar’s tenth feature film, “Up”, doesn’t make a lot of sense. A 78-year-old grump of a man named Mr. Frederickson (voiced by Ed Asner) fills thousands of balloons in the home he’s been living in his entire adult life and these balloons literally uproot his house from its foundation and carry it high into the sky. To complicate matters further, an over eager 8-year-old wilderness explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) has stowed away under the porch. Together, they must navigate this unlikely flying machine to South America so that Mr. Frederickson can find adventure before it’s too late. It sounds like an uphill battle to me but this is why it makes such perfect sense for “Up” to come along when it has. There could be no better way to commemorate this Pixar milestone than with a film that inherently requires an imagination as lofty as the boundless sky to get it off the ground.
UP! is consistently unexpected. It is uproarious one minute and then uplifting the next. Director Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”), along with his co-director Bob Peterson and indie director Tom McCarthy, put together an improbable scenario and gave a rock solid foundation to a story that barely spends any time on the ground. Not too dissimilar to McCarthy’s “The Visitor”, Mr. Frederickson comes from a different era. He met his wife Ellie when he was just a wee lad and they went on to spend their entire lives together, the up’s and down’s of which are strung together in a touching montage that shows sorrowful realities that are usually left out of animated films. With the love of his life now gone, Mr. Frederickson no longer understands the world around him. He merely sees how he has no place in it and suddenly feels as though it has all been wasted time.
As Mr. Frederickson and Russell coast alongside the clouds, so do we on this 3D adventure. It certainly cannot be called facile but “Up” has a certain breeziness to it, as though Docter has been driving his own house in the sky for ages now. There are some minor moments of turbulence (one talking dog is fine – especially when it is as adorable as Doug, voiced by co-writer Peterson – a large pack of talking dogs is a little too, well, Disney for my tastes) but you never lose faith in your captain. Docter is smart to infuse “Up” with themes but even smarter to know never to allow these themes to upstage his characters and their journey. Mr. Frederickson is an uptight old crank, but he is also a sensitive and loving husband. Russell is a clueless little boy but he means well and has his own issues with an absent father. Authentic and unwavering, they cannot help but influence the other while their up and coming friendship inspires us.
With the bar raised so high by their past efforts, Pixar needed “Up” to reach the sky to get over it this time. Its upbeat tone and upstanding quality allow it to glide right on over that bar and its unpredictable path make the experience adventuresome, exhilarating and unforgettable. It is everything you would expect to feel if you suddenly found yourself in a flying house, which is to say nothing at all and everything all at once. After conquering both the vast ocean and the infinite space in outer space, Pixar can now proudly say that they rule the sky as well.
Review by Joseph Bélanger