Last night, I was able to watch an early screening of Pixar's newest offering UP!, and I must say, Pixar has once again brought their A-game.
Up is the tale of Carl Fredricksen, a cantankerous old balloon salesman in the twilight of his years. From his childhood on, Carl has always dreamed of adventure, but he has never found time in his many years of life to take those grand chances or to see far off places. Finally, after a series of circumstances ends with Carl being told can no longer live in the house that he and his wife Elle had made their home, the grouchy old guy decides he is not going to let anyone chase him out or tell him what to do... So, he attaches every balloon he has to the top of his home, and he is Up and on outta here! What follows is the adventure Carl has been waiting his whole life for.
Pixar knows how to take the simplest of tales (like a big city Car ending up in the sticks
, or an all-star Toy fearing his younger replacement
) and the most typical of characters (The successful big Monster and his loudmouth buddy
, or the black sheep of the rat family
) and turn them into instant classics. Carl is more than your father, or your grandfather, or the old guy down the block. He represents a dreamer who never dared. He is you or me. He is everyone who just had life come at them and gently nudge away the fantasies of youth for adulthood and responsibility. But it is not that Carl resents the life he has chosen. In fact, his comfortable life with Elle is everything he could have hoped for, but sometimes things change, and sometime once you've achieved the happiness you never knew you wanted, you should never stop dreaming and going after more.
This is a story that is so precious it almost hurts. And that is so much of a wonderful thing. I left the theater wanting to hug everyone that means so much to me, because time is so awesome of a thing, and we forget that all too often. The Pixar movies always uplift, and Up! continues that tradition in spades.
One thing I truly enjoy about all of the Pixar films is that it never panders to children. It does not dumb it down to the fart or poop jokes that the lowest common denominator snickers at. There is a sense of humor here that is as smart as any "adult" film. Kevin the Bird taps into the slapstick and nonverbal physical humor of Charlie Chaplan
mixed with the old school Gogo Dodo
from Looney/Tiny Toons. Dug the Dog is, well, a dog who can talk, but unlike the traditional talking Disney characters, Dug - as well as the other mutts in Up - say what you just know a dog would - Squirrel!... ... ... - you just know a dog would say. There are moments of good and honest humor speckled all throughout as well as a sense of danger at times, which again is a credit to Pixar. There is death. There is fear. There is a reality to what characters must face. Even I had to put a hand over my eyes in a moment during a thunderstorm that threatens Carl's flying home (I peeked through my fingers though), and I made a yell in fear as a fire threatened to take it all away from our heroes. This is the kind of storytelling that may have your child squeezing your hand tight or even crawling into your lap, but it is the type of fun and fear that any parent can feel safe bringing their child to. It is all due to the fact that Up - like Toy Story, like Finding Nemo, like Pixar always is - is for the kid in everyone.
The animation feels fresh and all its own. There is a similar feeling of the Incredibles
in the way the background characters and city-folks appear, but Up moves just a bit to the left of the "reality" of the Incredibles. There is almost a wood-carved feeling to Carl and his merry band. The textures are more toy-like and waxen, the edges more squared off. The vibrant colors are like the balloons themselves, bluest of blue, reddest of red, and so forth.
The direction by Pete Doctor
(writer on other Pixar achievements such as Wall*E
and Toy Story 2) is like that of a typical road trip film combined with a high sea adventure film, but again, it is the tender storybook tale that keeps the film - ironically - grounded and close to heart. It is a fantastic first outing for the director.
The voice acting is always top notch in Pixar flicks, and that is larger due in part to the non-stunt casting that Dreamworks relies so heavily upon. Instead of selling the movie with this big name or that big name and falling short, the true voice of the characters have been found. Ed Asner
(who has perfected the cranky ol' curmudgeon from Lou Grant
to Granny Goodness
) embodies Mr. Fredricksen. The young co-adventurer Russell is voiced by Jordan Nagai
and is every little brother or neighborhood kid you've known to go hollering by in youthful and imaginative excitement. And Christopher Plummer
as Carl's childhood idol and professional adventurer Charles Muntz is as chilling as an embittered Klingon general
... These voices fit perfectly, as do the other voices such as Bob Peterson
as Dug, Delroy Lindo
and of course, John Ratzenberger
What can I say about this film that won't be said by every reviewer out there? Up is wonderfully sweet and tender. It is heart-wrenching and there are moments where the tears - both happy and sad - may come for those who let them. But it is also fun and exciting, and it is certainly laugh-out-loud at times with Kevin and Dug. To me, Star Trek has been the movie of the summer thus far, but Up!... Up! for me is the best movie of the year so far.
In Spill terms, I think it's clear that I am Full Price on this. I know this will be one I return to see again, and more than once at that. Pixar never lets down. I would like to go Better Than Sex on this - and I may just do that after another viewing where it isn't after midnight, and I'm not a bit punchy from lake of sleep, but until then - 100% high and solid Full Price!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go give my father a hug...