We could probably do this review in one short sentence: buy this DVD, schmucks.
But that would be unfair on you guys, plus my Editor may feel a bit short-changed. In truth, Up’s credentials are by now no secret or surprise, having hoovered up a vat load of Oscar nominations among other awards, and made itself comfy on many a critic’s end-of-year list.
Having already brushed aside well over 50 years of Disney domination to redefine the language of animation and ushered in advances in film technology, Pixar have seemingly outdone themselves in recent years, with Wall-E suggesting a creative force really at the top of its game. And so it proves with Up.
The Pixar pantheon of toys, robots, fish, cars and superheroes is joined by Carl Fredricksen, an arthritic curmudgeon with a voice like a gritting machine reversing over Bonnie Tyler’s throat. Now in his twilight years, Carl looks back on his life after the death of his wife Ellie, saddened by the way that their dreams of escaping to South America, inspired by the adventures of intrepid explorer Charles Muntz, were left unfulfilled.
Despite the best efforts of an enthusiastic adventure Scout named Russell, who’s keen to earn his Helping the Elderly badge, Carl is set to see out his years in bitter frustration. After an altercation with a bunch of developers who want to bulldoze his family home, Carl is faced with being sent out to pasture at an old folks’ home, but instead he attaches a shitload of helium balloons to his house and high-tails it to South America - before discovering that he has young Russell in tow.
Once in South America, a whole new world of exotic adventure unfolds, as the pair seek to fulfil Carl and Ellie’s long-held dream - unaware that the "trouble in paradise" cliché filter has been applied to the film, and that Muntz’s own journey into dotage has left him with a score to settle.
Funny, poignant, exciting and stylish, what’s most impressive about Up is how often it hits the spot. Not only is the story whimsical, it’s also able to handle moments of great sadness with gentleness and subtlety, never feeling the need to crowbar emotions out of the viewer. The much-lauded montage sequence sums it up perfectly, silently capturing Carl & Ellie’s life together, shifting from their blissful early days together to the painful traumas they also shared with a deftness and tenderness that is rarely matched.
The comic timing and judgement are impeccable too. While the Shrek series was latterly undone by its post-modernist smugness, feeling the need to play for cheap referential gags, Up draws its humour from its own well - the gags are there in the story and its situation, not based on reaching out to our knowledge of pop culture iconography - though, that said, the canine card school and Star Wars riffing are neat moments, it’s just they’re tiny asides rather than coarse knowing winks.
The characterisation is admirable too. In other films the urge to go all Al Gore would have made the developers into monstrous bad guys, but here they’re just here to push the plot on. Carl and Russell themselves manage to be human and cartoons at the same time, part caricature, but equally identifiable. It’s the fine balancing of the elements that keeps it on solid ground even when it takes flight. Groan.
It’s hard not be won over by Up. It’s a wonderful story, told to perfection, that’s perfectly executed and is stunning to look at. It expertly weaves a number of sub-plots as the story takes flight, just like the old codger’s house. There’s usually some kind of lesson to be gleaned from anything associated with the House of Mouse, but in Up’s case, the theme that life itself and our shared experiences, rather than a globe-trotting expedition, is an adventure is less cloying and fairly inspiring. That’s far too lame a note to end on. Instead, I’ll end as I began: buy this DVD, schmucks.
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer
Directed by: Peter Docter
Extras: commentary, animated shorts, alternate endings, featurette