Pixar has been on a role with producing high quality animated features. Their features not only contain impressive 3D animation, but most importantly, they tell high quality stories for children and adults to enjoy equally. These great qualities were present in the Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and WALL-E. These qualities are also present in their 2009 animated adventure, Up. Up was the first film made by Pixar that earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. That is quite the honor indeed considering that the only other animated film that was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar was Beauty and the Beast (1991). And do I think the honor is well deserved? Sure, I'd say it is.
Our main character of this picture is Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner), a 78-year-old man who recently lost his wife due to a terminal illness. He and his wife have always dreamed of going on a big adventure to South America. Now, with the assistance of thousands of balloons attached to his house, Carl takes off on an adventure to South America on her posthumous behalf. However, Carl doesn't realize that he also brought a young Wilderness Explorer along with him. This young boy, aka Russell, wants to earn a badge for assisting the elderly and he thinks he can help Carl even though he claims he doesn't need any help.
This unlikely duo arrives to South America and on their adventure, they come across a tall bird (whom Russell calls Kevin at first, but eventually learns that it's a female) and a dog named Dug who has a collar that speaks on its behalf. They also encounter a lost adventurer that Carl admired when he was a kid who is now at old age. This adventurer known as Charles F. Muntz is searching for the bird that these two have befriended and certain complications arise that cause Carl and Russell to do whatever they can to protect Kevin from the hands of Muntz and his dog minions.
When talking about the positive aspects of Up, the first thing that should be applauded right away is the film's first couple minutes which covers the lifetime relationship between Carl and his wife Ellie from childhood to adulthood. Almost done completely without dialogue, this sublime introduction manages to pack in enough warm emotion and chemistry between Carl and Ellie in a brief amount of time that it's difficult not to admire it. It's so well done that when Carl thinks about Ellie or looks at a picture of her on the walls of his house in the remainder of the film, we already understand the strength of their connection. That doesn't always happen with a film, and it's usually difficult to pull such a thing off. But much like Dumbo or Bambi before it, Up somehow manages to pull it off successfully.
Much like a film that came out before Up called Gran Torino, the main character Carl reminded me a bit of my grandpa, who passed away a few months before this film was released. If you've already seen my review for Gran Torino (2008), you may already understand why in regards to him being genuine but also being a curmudgeon for understandable reasons. Between the main characters of both films, Carl is by far the more upbeat, adventurous one. I know it sounds like an unusual, unfair comparison to make (since I'm comparing a family film to an adult film), but it's simply to give you an idea of what this character is like. Even if he's going on highly unrealistic adventures, you'd completely buy that if a man that age in real-life were on this adventure like Carl, chances are they'd act the same way that Carl does.
Of course, it's not just Carl Frederickson and the film's first couple minutes that make Up a special animated feature, it's the whole film altogether. Say what you will about the story being too silly and implausible at times, it is still told very well. The storytellers knew what they were doing with the character of Russell. In other storyteller's hands, he might have been an overbearing screen presence. But at the hands of Pixar, Russell has just the right balance of charm and innocence. Based solely on the dogs in this film especially Dug, Pixar really knows a lot about dogs and how happy and playful these creatures are in real life. I think it's a safe bet that when we all guess what dogs might say if they could speak, it would pretty darn close to what's brought to life here.
Not since their first feature Toy Story has Pixar produced such a strong animated motion picture. The sky's the limit with what Up does so well. The characters are all relatable and well thought out. The story has many creative fantasy elements with the millions of balloons keeping the house afloat and whatnot. The music by Michael Giacchino compliments the tone of the film very well, especially with the soft moments involving just the piano being heard in the background. The animation is very expressive and colorful as films like this should be. To get straight to the point, Up is a delightful flight.