Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 5/30/09 w/ Additional Edits.
Since 1995, Pixar has been the animated studio that changed the face of cinema and animation itself. Led by co-founder John Lassetter, Pixar in its association with Disney helped introduce the world to 3-D computer animation for many years with its first feature film Toy Story. Eight films later which included such hits like Toy Story 2, A Bug's Life, Monster's Inc., Cars, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and 2008's WALL-E. The studio continues to push the boundaries of animation with its team of directors including Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird. Since its founding in the mid-1980s, Pixar has continued to score massive critical acclaim and box office as in 2009. The studio released its 10th film by having it being the opening film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. For the studio, it was a huge achievement as it was the first animated film to open the festival with a simple story about an old man and a boy scout going on an adventure entitled Up.
Directed by Pete Docter, with additional directing by Bob Peterson, and screenplay by Bob Peterson with story credits from Ronnie del Carmen plus additional, un-credited work by Thomas McCarthy. Up tells the story of a widowed, retired 78-year old man whose house is about to be destroyed. To fulfill the wishes of his late wife, the man blows up millions of balloons for his house to be lifted up in the air unaware that he is taking an 8-year-old boy scout on an adventure to South America with help from a dog and a tropical bird.
Inspired by the story of Miguel de Cervantes' Man of La Mancha along with films like Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo and Roland Joffe's The Mission. The film is a simple adventure tale filled with the same kind of humor and brilliant animation that Pixar is famous for. Even as the film pushes the boundary of 3D technology without any kind of gimmicks. Along with the accompanying short film Party Cloudy by Peter Sohn about a lonely cloud and a stork. Up features the voices of Edward Asner, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Ellie Docter, Delroy Lindo, Pixar regular John Ratzenberger, and Christopher Plummer. Up is a charming, adventurous film from Pete Docter and company.
Written and directed by Peter Sohn. The short film tells the story of a gray cloud trying to fit in with other clouds by creating things. While the clouds create babies, puppies, and kittens with lots of things for storks. One stork has to work with the gray cloud who creates baby gators, rams, and other wild creatures that the stork is forced to endure. Feeling sad that he couldn't create something cute, he is afraid that he will be rejected.
The short has a nice little plot that is simple while it's mostly silent with its array of light humor and sentimentality in terms of its cloud. Overall, it's a wonderful, accompanying short film for the big feature film Up.
A young boy named Carl Fredricksen (Jeremy Leary) watches a newsreel about the famed explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) whose attempt to discover Paradise Falls in South America became a disaster due to false claims over a mysterious skeletal creature he found. Carl later meets a young girl named Ellie (Ellie Docter) who is an adventurous girl as they become friends and eventually a couple. Many years later, the 78-year old Carl (Edward Asner) is a retired widow whose home is in danger of being destroyed by a construction site. After an incident with a construction worker, Carl is forced to go to a retirement home. Instead, he decides to fulfill Ellie's dream of going to Paradise Falls by blowing up a million balloons for his house to fly away from the city. Carl seems relieved until he realized he had taken a passenger in a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai).
Carl reluctantly takes Russell who is hoping to get one last merit badge to become a Senior Explorer. Upon their destination to South America, they reach the ravine where Paradise Falls is though it's at the other side of that ravine. Having to drag the house, they encounter a large, colorful bird that Russell names Kevin as they also meet a dog named Dug (Bob Peterson) who has a voicebox on his neck to talk. Realizing that Kevin is trying to reach out to other birds of its species, Carl and Russell meet up with other dogs including Alpha (Bob Peterson), Beta (Delroy Lindo), and Gamma (Jerome Ranft) as they're the owners of the legendary Charles Muntz. Carl is enamored by Muntz who is trying to find the bird that is revealed to be Kevin as Muntz goes after the bird.
With Carl more concerned about his house as he finally reaches his destination, Russell decides to save Kevin as Carl reluctantly takes part with help from Dug. With Muntz holding Kevin at his dirigible, Carl and Muntz battle while Russell tries to save the bird with help from Dug and other dogs.
The film is essentially an adventure tale about an old man wanting to fulfill the wishes of his late wife. Along the way, he encounters characters and creatures that would shape his journey similar to the adventures of Don Quixote. While the story and tale is simple, it's a film that is filled with mesmerizing images and montages with a story that is definitely enchanting. Even with the characters that surround the film as Carl Fredricksen is a combination of the crankiness of Walter Matthau, the look of Spencer Tracy, and the determination of Don Quixote. For his Sancho Panza, there's Russell. A young Asian-American boy who serves as the eternal optimist who is hoping to get a great experience while helping Carl in his hopes to become a Senior Explorer. Yet, there's something about Russell that is also sad since he's a boy who doesn't see his father very much where Carl becomes this reluctant father figure of sorts.
The film's antagonist is Charles Muntz, a man who is part Charles Lindbergh, part Howard Hughes, and also a bit like the title character of Werner Herzog's 1982 classic film Fitzcarraldo. Muntz is a man obsessed with finding the bird that is named Kevin in hopes to restore his credibility as an explorer. Instead, he becomes insane and heartless as the man whom Carl idolized has now become a mad recluse surrounded by dogs with electronic collars that has different voices. The leading dog of that group is Alpha whose collar is often malfunctioned where his voice ends up have him talking like a chipmunk. Whereas Alpha is a mean, bossy dog, there's Dug who is the exact opposite as he hopes to be loved by someone like Carl who reluctantly takes him as part of his adventure.
The screenplay is wonderfully structured with some great dialogue and character development. Though the story does have a sense of predictability, it's adventure and development in character makes the story a whole, worthwhile event to be enamored by. All of this is helped by Pete Docter's direction. Docter's approach to the story has this great opening sequence of young Carl meeting Ellie as a kid which leads to this incredible montage of them growing up into adults and such. That sequence of montages alone features no dialogue at all as it's accompanied by music. Then comes the main story as it is filled with a great sense of adventure.
A lot of the scenes in South America were based on locations in Venezuelan mountains and some parts of Brazil. The rugged look of the jungles along with its blistering colors and grand scope is really entrancing to watch. Yet, several scenes which involves Russell and Carl dragging the house does reference the film Fitzcarraldo, which was about a man trying to drag a steamboat ship on top of a mountain. The direction and action sequences definitely keep the adrenaline going with a mix of broad, light-hearted humor and sweeping melodrama in relation to Carl's feelings over Ellie which doesn't go into overly sentimental territory. What Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson does create is a spectacular, enjoyable film that is adventurous and fun to watch.
The look of the film from its gorgeous colorful cinematography in the lighting shades of the house and the look of the jungle is brilliant. Even the art direction and location detail by production designer Ricky Nievara with a team of art directors is splendid in the look of Carl's house as well as the rugged locations of the Paradise Falls ravine with an array of rocks coming from the tepui mountains of Venezuela. The sound work is brilliant from the sounds of the water falls, creatures, and storms is great. The music of Michael Giacchino, a regular Pixar collaborator, is splendid with its mix of old-time, early 20th Century rag time music to the sweeping arrangements in the adventure scenes as it's some excellent work from Giacchino.
The voice cast is phenomenal with director Pete Docter playing the Wilderness Explorers leader and his daughter Ellie playing the role of the young Ellie with great enthusiasm and energy. Other notable small voice roles as the dogs are Delroy Lindo and Jerome Ranft as the comical lieutenants of Alpha's crew who often laughs at his squeaky voice. Jeremy Leary is very good as the young Carl with his quiet personality and love for Charles Muntz. Co-director and screenwriter Bob Peterson does excellent work in providing some great humor as the voice of Alpha while doing something mean while being normal and fun as Dug. Pixar regular John Ratzenberger is excellent in a small role as a construction worker who tries to get Carl out of his house as he provides a nice dose of humor to the film.
Christopher Plummer is great as Charles Muntz in voicing the mad personality who is on the brink of insanity as Plummer provides the great vocal work for the film's antagonist. Jordan Nagai is wonderful as the voice of Russell with an exuberance and liveliness that is an 8-year old along with a dose of realism as he faces new challenges and reality. Nagai's voice is definitely the standout as he voices the sheer innocence of a young boy. Finally, there's Edward Asner in one of his best roles yet as the voice of Carl Fredricksen. Asner provides the great mix of bitterness and desire of a man trying to deal with his wife's death while fulfilling a sense of adventure that he needed. It's definitely a role that is lively but also filled with real life regrets and frustrations of a man just trying to fulfill some last wishes as Asner brings some life into the heroic role of Carl Fredricksen.
While Up may not reach the heights of masterpieces like the Toy Story films, WALL-E, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, or Finding Nemo. It is a well-made, entertaining, and adventurous film from Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. With a great cast of actors providing voices along with some amazing visuals and scenery that lives up to Pixar's unique standards. Fans of the Pixar films will no doubt rank this as one of its finest while it crosses many barriers from an adventure film that kids will enjoy to the fully realized character development that adults and art house fans can enjoy. In the end, Up is a lively film that raises spirits while proving that Pixar is still the animation studio that keeps on putting great stories for everyone to enjoy.
Pixar Films: Toy Story - A Bug's Life - Toy Story 2 - (Monsters, Inc.) - (Finding Nemo) - The Incredibles - Cars - Ratatouille - WALL-E - Toy Story 3 - Cars 2 - Brave - Monsters University - Inside Out - The Good Dinosaur - (Finding Dory) - (Cars 3) - (Coco) - Incredibles 2 - (Toy Story 4)
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