Rated PG for some peril and action, 96 minutes
The fantastic, touching adventure "Up" flies high: it's one of 2009's best
We critics are a fickle group. We call one movie the "best of the year" in January until another one comes out that's better. But I can honestly call the brilliant and charming new Pixar animated adventure Up, one of the year's best that will certainly make my Top 10 Best List at year's end. Clever, touching, funny and dynamically animated, it won't take long for Up to hook you in to it's wonderful story. Nearing the 6 month mark of 2009, I've only given out two "A's" (the other being the new Star Trek) because I feel a film should earn it, and Up is richly deserving of it.
By tying thousands of balloon to his home, 78-year old widow and balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen (perfectly voiced by Edward Asner) sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America, inspired by his late wife and an adventurer named Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn't alone on his journey, since Russell (Jordan Nagai), a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, has inadvertently become a stowaway on the trip. Along the way, they find some canines, a bird and maybe even Muntz himself, who may be interested in something valuable that Carl and Russell have in their possession.
Up is sublimely entertaining and certainly one of Pixar's best, maybe even their best movie yet as it delivers some valuable messages about the importance of love, loyalty and friendship. It's hard to believe that the Pixar team could top last year's WALL-E or even Ratatouille, but they manage to do it in their exquisite, detailed and crisp palette they bring to life in Up, not to mention one of the most touching stories seen in some time in live-action or animation. Up is more than just a cartoon for the kids, it's a finely-drawn adventure for both young and old.
The sentimental but insightful prologue of Up, done with little dialogue detailing Carl's backstory, draws you in quickly to the story and helps you understand why this old man takes such an unusual adventure, unwittingly with the plump, awkward Russell, who has some family issues and in need of a friend and father figure. Along comes a fluttery and squawking large tropical bird that Russell names Kevin and feeds it chocolate, though we find out later that the bird is actually female; there's also lovable pooch Dug, who has an unusual way of speaking.
Much of the success of Up lies not just in the fantastic animation, but the touching story. Up is helmed by Monsters Inc. director Pete Docter and Pixar animator and writer Bob Peterson, who's worked on numerous Pixar features. Many current animated features feature an abundance of smart-aleck characters, cutesy talking animals and adult pop culture humor elevated well above the kids' heads. Not so with Up, as they'll easily connect to and vastly enjoy the timeless, amusing story and its bright, flawless animation. Up is a clear reminder of how Pixar has become the Cadillac of animation and setting the standard in this genre (the 3-D works well too but unnecessary).
Sure, the story of Up is nothing new - old man and young boy relationship has been done numerous times (the recent, affecting Is Anybody There? with Michael Caine among them) - not to mention it's messages - but it's also never been as spirtedly done as with a thousand colorful balloons. And yes, the dogs do talk, but in a distinctive way (some sort of sensors) that becomes the cleverst part of Up. The charming canine Dug, voiced by co-director Peterson speaks in humorous robotically stilted language: "I love you and have just met you" he says upon meeting Carl.
Veteran Asner (he'll always be Lou Grant to me) and newcomer child actor Nagai tenderly voice the leads, while Plummer is a crusty and peculiar Howard Hughes-inspired Muntz. And a Pixar film wouldn't be a Pixar film without Cheers' John Ratzenberger, who's instantly recognizable with just a couple of lines. Up finishes predictably but enjoyably and you'll leave with a big smile on your face - old man, boy, dog, tropical bird and lots of balloons all happily intact.
I highly recommend the lovely, exceedingly enjoyable and splendid Up, a rare early summer treat that will hopefully last all summer long.
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