Posted on 5/07/09 04:58 PM
If there are any words or describe Up, Pixar Animation Studios tenth film and their first to utilize Disney Digital 3-D technology, it?s ?Pixar perfect (again).? A melding of the cutting edge computer animation and the character-centered storytelling that?s made Pixar the preeminent computer animation studio (with a global brand to match), Up is the second film to be written (actually co-written) and directed by Pete Docter. Docter, best known as the writer-director of Monsters, Inc., Pixar?s fourth film, returns after eight years with a film just as emotionally and thematically resonant as his first film. Co-writing Up with Bob Peterson (who also receives a co-directing credit), Docter can set aside the Academy Awards next spring where he and Peterson will pick up another Best Animated Film Oscar from the academy.
The world has moved on, but Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Edward Asner) hasn?t. A 78 year-old former balloon salesman, Carl still clings to his memories of his late wife, memories reflected in the house they once owned together and in the knick-knacks and other mementos they collected over the years. Bereft, but with nowhere to go, Carl clings stubbornly to his house, refusing to sell the house to the local developer who?s purchased every lot in the neighborhood except Carl?s. After an angry outburst lands Carl in civil court, he faces the prospect of losing his home permanently and being forced into a retirement home. Carl, however, refuses to acquiesce, instead installing 10,000 helium-filled balloons from his chimney and floating, flying away to Paradise Falls, Venezuela, the last known destination for one-time explorer and adventurer, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) and the almost mythical location Ellie dreamed of visiting, but never did.
But Carl isn?t counting on Russell (Jordan Nagai), an avid Wilderness Explorer eager to obtain his last badge for ?assisting the elderly.? An inadvertent stowaway, Russell?s eager to join Carl on his adventure. Carl isn?t eager for company, but when a storm hits, Carl and Russell are forced to work together, ultimately reaching Venezuela and the plateau. Far from Paradise Falls and with the helium slowly leaking from the balloons, Carl and Russell head for the falls, the house tethered to their backs. What they find on the plateau, their subsequent adventures, some of them death defying, and, just as importantly, the ?life lessons? both characters learn on the way to Paradise Falls are best for moviegoers to discover for themselves. Suffice it to say that their adventures involves several additional characters, two who talk and one that doesn?t. Two characters prove to be loyal. One even proves to be Carl and Russell?s best friend.
For inspiration, Docter and Peterson drew on The Lost World, Arthur Conan Doyle?s (Sherlock Holmes) 1913 novel and subsequent adaptations, including the 1925 version that featured stop-motion dinosaurs created by Willis O?Brien (King Kong, Mighty Joe Young), both for the Muntz character, clearly modeled on the proto-Indiana Jones hero Professor Challenger who returns to the plateau to bring back a live specimen of a prehistoric animal and in the plateau itself, a ?Land Time Forgot,? a reference both to Doyle?s novel and a similarly premised novel, The Land Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Wizard of Oz, Martin Brest?s Going in Style, and Werner Herzog?s Fitzcarraldo influenced Up to varying degrees.
In Carl, Russell, Muntz, and several others, Docter and Peterson have created memorable characters. Physically, Docter and Peterson modeled the Muntz character on Kirk Douglas and Errol Flynn (with a touch of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.). For Carl, Peterson and Doctor borrowed Spencer Tracey?s abundance of white hair and prominent jaw, but otherwise created a unique character, albeit one with Ed Asner?s famously cantankerous disposition. While Russell might not be the first Asian-American character in an animated film (Disney?s Mulan got there first), he?s the first major Asian-American character in a Pixar film. Where Carl and Muntz are angular, a conscious decision by Docter and Peterson to reflect their inner limitations, Russell is oval-shaped.
But Up is more than the sum of its influences. It?s much more. In the silent montage that follows an eight year-old Carl and his first meeting with Ellie, the love of his life, Docter and Peterson craft a mini-film that brings moviegoers up to speed on Carl?s present state-of-mind, but also encapsulates Up's theme of relationships, especially lifelong ones, as adventures in and of themselves. The other major theme, of Carl reawakening to life?s possibilities, including mentoring the fatherless Russell, is handled with a light hand that let?s Carl, and by extension the audience, learn an important ?life lesson? with a minimum of sentimentality or sermonizing.
Without quality animation, story, themes, and characters would be, if not meaningless, then worth a lot less. Here as in their previous nine films (even including Cars), Pixar?s attention to detail is evident in everything from the patches on Russell?s Wilderness Explorer uniform to the knick-knacks and mementos in Carl?s home, to the almost alien world Carl and Russell encounter in Venezuela. Docter, Peterson, and several other animators visited Angel Falls, Venezuela, the real-world equivalent of Paradise Falls in the film to gather reference material, including the tepuis, the singularly odd-shaped stone structures found on the Angel Falls plateau. Combined with 3-D that emphasizes depth over projection, Up is yet another triumph for Pixar, one that Pixar?s competitors will be, once again, hard pressed to duplicate, let alone surpass.