Up, the new animated feature from Disney/Pixar, is buoyant, but gets heavy. It’s a cartoon adventure that doesn’t talk down to its audience, child or adult.
The film begins with a young child, Carl, enthralled by newsreels of Charles Muntz, famous adventurer. Carl meets another Muntz fan, Ellie. Carl is silent and reserved, Ellie is active and excited. The two become friends and eventually marry. Their joy comes across clearly, as does Carl’s earnestness as he promises Ellie a trip to South America, just like Muntz.
Of course, life is not always fun. Carl and Ellie discover they cannot have children. They begin saving for a trip to South America, but day-to-day troubles keep them from ever going. At last, Ellie dies, and Carl is left alone, his neighbourhood demolished to make way for new apartments and sushi restaurants.
In, Up pain, both physical and emotional, is real. When Carl strikes a construction worker during an argument, the worker is knocked back and begins to bleed. When Russell tells Carl about how he misses his father, you pity him. It’s not unusual for Disney to pluck your heartstrings, but Up does it an a genuine way, without it feeling forced or mean.
Up does have ups and they’re elating. Carl escapes the city by tying helium-filled balloons to his house, going to fulfil Ellie’s dream of having a house atop Paradise Falls in Venezuela. His triumph over the city, over those that want to put him in a home, is bright and colourful. His balloons project a mess of colour on buildings as his house soars upward. An eager boy scout, Russell, happens to be in his house at the time and comes along for the ride.
Events in Up do not let up. Things do not slow once they’re floating through the sky. Russell and Carl are soon on the ground in South America, being chased by packs of hounds, saving endangered animals, and battling atop a giant blimp. There’s a lot going on around Paradise Falls, and it gets zany.
Up is Pixar’s tenth feature film, but their charm and attention to detail is as fresh and complete as it has ever been. The film is visually and aurally rich. There is a sense of scale: you can sense how high in the air they fly, the distance and size the cliffs they run along. There are, at the same time, many subtle touches: Carl’s stubble grows as the movie goes on, cords fray realistically, and Russell’s merit badges have individual nylon threads in their designs.
Depth and detail are not limited to places and objects. The film conveys emotion with skill, without hitting you over the head. The care with which Carl tends the mementos of Ellie shows how much he loved her. The way he insists on preserving his house, full of Ellie’s trinkets, tying it to his shoulders and dragging it around with him show what a burden his own sentimentality has become. Carl never breaks down and tells you how much he misses Ellie, but you see and feel it.
Similarly successful restraint is shown in the characters. While most talking animals in animated movies are really just funny-looking humans (e.g. Antz, Chicken Little, and Pixar’s own Finding Nemo), the talking dogs in Up are talking dogs. Their lines aren’t insightful or witty, but exactly what you’d expect from dogs. “I have just met you, and I love you.” There is no sassy dog, no brave leader, no young rebel. (It’s very different from the upcoming G-Force.) There is instead a goofy dog that, like a dog, is lovable and easily distracted by a squirrels.
These are examples of how Up is thrilling and affecting, and trusts its audience to follow along. Though something you could enjoy with kids, it should not be mistaken as a childish movie. Up does not treat its audience as children, not shying away from painful events, while still eliciting wonder and fun. There is more than enough to Up to keep you aloft.