Hampered by a poor, almost cryptic advertising campaign, Up returns Pixar to their storytelling roots as experienced in previous films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
What the trailers tell you is that the elderly Carl Fredricksen (voice of Edward Asner) inexplicably ties his small two-story house to thousands of balloons to launch it skyward, only to become saddled with a kid named Russel (Jordan Nagai), a talking dog (voice of Bob Peterson), and incur the ire of some old man (voice of Christopher Plummer). What you need to know is that Carl has actually led a full and happy life with his wife Ellie, but on the day of her passing, one lifelong dream remained unfulfilled: to follow in the footsteps of their favorite adventurer to find a hidden land in South America and experience all of its wonder. Of course, meeting your heroes doesn’t always turn out the way you’d hope in much the same way that “adventure” is often more exciting when listening to how others risked their lives and survived the unknown.
Enough harping on what the studio decided we didn’t need to know while trying to convince us to watch their new movie anyway. All you should concern yourself with is Pixar has again crafted a well thought-out story that resonates deeply and on many levels. Getting to know why Carl is the way he is becomes the heart of the story, and as he changes, the story never strays from that point of view as each new discovery opens his eyes a little further. Forget that little doe-eyed trash compactor from last summer; I triple-dog dare you to argue that WALL-E is even same class as this (and you only get to cite Buster Keaton once).
What sets Pixar storytelling apart from your average (and now commonplace) 3D animated feature is that Pixar usually doesn’t fall into the slapstick trap, telling a believable story first and letting humor bleed through naturally. Little Russel is of course Carl seventy years earlier, filled with an adventurous spirit but also having to overcome situations Carl never did, like winning the approval of an often-absent parent. Last year’s Kung Fu Panda managed much the believability but, being DreamWorks Animation, still couldn’t resist the inherit desire to be zany with animation simply because you can. So-called toilet humor often undermines any degree of seriousness once exposed, and it takes a crafty writer to sneak such elements in without turning the entire production into a Warner Bros cartoon.
While kids can enjoy the film as is, adults won’t be bored with the deeper meanings (although they may have to explain a few tragedies that the story glosses over). Of course the animation is state of the art as are the 3D digital effects (try to see it in the specially-equipped 3D theaters for maximum effectiveness). The voice cast is spot on while the animation is breathtaking; Pixar again makes it all look too easy. It’s just too bad they couldn’t trust us with more of the story in earlier advertising rather than simply snow us with pretty animation, but it’s also kind of hard to wipe away sentiment wearing 3D glasses, too.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)