MOVIE REVIEW- Soar subject: <i>Up</i> is a beauty, not a beast
Cars hinted that Pixar wasn't making toons just for children anymore, with a multigenerational appeal that skewed toward nostalgic older viewers. Ratatouille and WALL•E also had more adult appeal than most feature-length cartoons.
Up takes things a giant step forward. It's an animated feature for people who saw the first wave of Disney classics in their first runs, and secondarily for youngsters who are close to their grandparents or even great-grandparents. Yet director, Pete Docter's only previous feature was Pixar's younger-skewing Monsters, Inc.
If Up turns out to have a broad appeal for kids in general, so much the better. It can teach them to appreciate a better class of movies than what Hollywood usually throws at them and their less discriminating elders.
The main character, Carl Fredericksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is nearly 80, but he wasn't always old. The opening sequence (following a delightful animated short, Partly Cloudy) shows him as a boy, watching a newsreel about dashing explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), who roams the world in his dirigible, Spirit of Adventure. Muntz, Carl's idol, is discredited after he brings back a giant bird skeleton, "the monster of Paradise Falls," from South America and it's deemed a fake.
But Muntz has at least one more loyal fan, Ellie, who bonds with Carl over their shared admiration. She eventually marries him and they spend a lifetime together, shown in a brief– but not rushed– montage. They have no children and never achieve their goal of traveling to Paradise Falls together.
In the present day Carl is a widower, still living in the house they shared despite developers building around it and trying to buy it from him. He grudgingly befriends a young boy, Russell (Jordan Nagai), a Wilderness Explorer who's trying to earn an "assisting the elderly" badge.
About to be evicted and sent to Shady Oaks Retirement Village, Carl fills thousands of balloons with helium and ties them to the house. When they come to take him away he goes up, up and away instead. As the house soars over the city Carl learns he has a stowaway: Russell.
Trailers have been giving away that much of the story for months that seem like years. About a third of the way into the movie the square-faced man and round-faced boy arrive near Paradise Falls, and their real adventure begins.
Suffice it to say it involves a bird and a lot of talking dogs, one of them (Dug, voiced by writer and co-director Bob Peterson) friendly, and the mystery of what happened to Charles Muntz is cleared up. Unlike WALL•E, which ran out of fresh ideas in its second half, Up continues to provide fresh, often funny surprises, even as it builds momentum and becomes more action-oriented.
The 3-D version of Up wasn't screened for critics, but even in 2-D it has about four more dimensions than most of the Hollywood crap out there. Rather than condescend to children, Asner makes Carl so real you can almost forget you're watching a cartoon– at least until the dogs start talking again.
Up has already been honored as the first animated film and the first film in 3-D to open the Cannes Film Festival. They don't have to wait until the end of the year to give out Best Animated Feature awards. There hasn't been one as good as Up since Beauty and the Beast, and it's not likely to be topped in the next seven months.