Review: Whimsy-Powered Up Packs Emotional Punch

In typical Pixar style, this adventure about an old man with a flying house delights all ages...and socks you right in the heart

By Matt Stevens May 28, 2009 5:20 PMTags

Review in a Hurry: If you think eager-beaver kid plus grumpy geezer equals just another mismatched-buddy flick, then you don't know Pixar very well. The celebrated animation studio reaches great heights—again—with a surprising story that's about a whole lot more than an old man with a flying house.

The Bigger Picture: In Pixar's early days, their animation magicians excelled at creating wordless computerized shorts that spoke volumes about the characters' inner lives and relationships. Even as the studio has grown and produced a staggering string of blockbusters, they've never strayed from that emphasis on emotional authenticity.

Such focus was evident in the opening of Wall-E—and again in the breathtakingly beautiful setup of Up's protagonist, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), and his wife. The passage depicting the life of a marriage and death of a dream hits all the right grace notes. No words necessary. We care about Carl, no matter what happens next. And a lot happens.

Faced with eviction, the cranky coot (a Muppety version of Dick Cheney—but likable) hoists his house with thousands of helium balloons and sets sail for Paradise Falls in South America. Right after liftoff, he discovers a stowaway, 8-year-old wilderness explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai).

Stuck with each other, the two navigate the elements to arrive at the tropical utopia—exquisitely rendered, of course. They inadvertently befriend a huge rare bird and "talking" dogs trained by Carl's childhood hero, disgraced adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer).

Whereas Wall-E overcompensated for its lyrical first act with a frenetic denouement, Up shifts more smoothly into the high-action climax. Kids will delight at the exciting chase sequences and dog antics. But the film will resonate most with adults, who can appreciate its many levels and message about the precious adventures in life.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Parents might bristle at the sight of mad Muntz wielding a gun and shooting at Russell. Perhaps a future rerelease will replace it with a walkie-talkie, à la Spielberg's retooled E.T.?


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