Friday, September 24, 2010
Up is the story of Carl (Ed Asner), a widower that decides to fulfill his (and his late wife's) childhood dream of living in Paradise Falls, located in the remote jungles of South America. It's kind of a silly idea, but Carl felt bad that, in all their time together, life always got in the way of that one goal of theirs. Alone and childless, Carl has only one thing he wants to take with on his trip: the house he and his wife, Ellie, lived in. As the movie poster indicates, that isn't as big of a problem as you might think, provided that you have a few hundred helium balloons coming out of your chimney. Carl unwittingly picks up an unwanted hitchhiker at the start of his journey; Russell (Jordan Nagai) is in a club that is similar to the Boy Scouts, and he had wanted to earn his merit badge for helping an elderly person, so Carl sent him on a snipe hunt. Apparently, being a jerk to kids sometimes backfires in children's movies, and Russell happened to be on the house porch when it lifted off the ground. Together, they manage to land the house close to Paradise Falls, but the rest of their journey (the house is supposed to be right next to Paradise Falls) is the adventuring part of the story. In it, they meet Dug, the talking dog, a rare giant bird that Russell names Kevin, and the film's surprise villain, voiced by Christopher Plummer.
I really enjoyed this movie. Like almost all Pixar films, there is a very poignant emotional core to this story that makes a lot of people (me included) tear up. Like Wall-E before it, Up has a definite sense of loss that gives the story a weight that very few animated films can match. You remember how sad it was when E.T. or Bambi's mom died? In a movie like Up, that's a good day. Thankfully, the movie is able to move beyond that sadness toward a sense of renewed vigor. By the story's end, you're not feeling sorry for Carl anymore, you're proud of him for changing.
The voice acting has some recognizable talent, but no huge names. Ed Asner is a television icon, but he's getting old and has never been a huge name in film, but he does a great job playing the gruff old man that opens his heart again. Not that this is a huge stretch for Asner, who played a younger version of this on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but it's been almost thirty years since he played that character, so I don't think it's type casting. I generally like Christopher Plummer as a supporting actor, and he delivered as the aristocratic-sounding mad villain. I was definitely surprised by how much I enjoyed Jordan Nagai as Russell, since I was annoyed by him in commercials. He managed to portray all the innocence and excitement of childhood quite well, and if his face is half as emotive as his voice, he could become a talented actor. Dug the dog was voiced by Bob Peterson, who was also co-director of the film and the voice of the mean dog, Alpha. Peterson has been working with Pixar for many years now, but this is definitely his biggest voice contribution to date. I loved his dog voices, at least in part because I think dogs are stupid and Dug's voice definitely supports my theory.
There's really not much more to add. Director Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson did a great job telling a story that appeals to the child in everyone, but also handles some mature themes very well. Is this a movie full of surprises? Probably not, but it's well written and it hits all the right beats at the right times. I don't know what it is about Pixar movies and their trailers, though. How can something that seems so obnoxious in the trailer be so entertaining in the moment? I guess I have to give credit to the filmmakers for making their humor very contextual and not just dumb catch phrases or random pop culture references. Children's movies don't have to be this smart or emotional, but it's nice when a movie can appeal to all ages.