Up

Movie Information

The Story: Faced with being sent to a retirement home, the 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen -- a former balloon vendor at a zoo -- ties an unbelievable number of balloons to his house and floats away in search of an obscure part of South America that he and his wife always planned to see. The Lowdown: An altogether remarkable -- and remarkably moving -- film that's on the very short list of best of 2009.
Score:

Genre: Animated Fantasy/Adventure
Director: Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and Bob Peterson
Starring: (Voices) Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo
Rated: PG

It was not a given that I would join the chorus of those praising the newest Pixar offering, Up. I’ve liked most Pixar films—usually more in part than in whole—and been respectfully indifferent to the others. All in all, I’ve tended to find them over-praised, despite their undeniable merits, which are often considerable. However, along comes Up, and with it a Pixar picture that is fully worth whatever praise anyone cares to bestow on it.

That it is also pretty much the vision of two men—Pete Docter and Bob Peterson—is, I suspect, a factor. I can find no other Pixar movie that doesn’t boast at least three writers, and usually a battery of them. It’s probably not coincidental that the most recent other American animated film that I’ve truly treasured—Lilo & Stitch (2002)—was also the vision of just two guys, and was not a film by committee. I submit that there’s a lesson to be learned from this—and if Up is the success it deserves to be, maybe the lesson will be learned.

You’ve probably seen the trailers for Up—the folks at Disney have taken care of that—but if ever a film was not fully represented by its trailers, Up qualifies. Yes, it is the story of crusty 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen (Edward Asner) flying away in a house to which he’s attached thousands and thousands of helium balloons. And yes, he inadvertently takes along a Boy Scout—or more correctly, a Wilderness Explorer—named Russell (Jordan Nagai). You’ve probably also seen the easily distracted (at least by squirrels) “talking” dog, Dug (Bob Peterson).

What you’ve not seen is even a hint of the backstory that explains why Carl floats away in his house—something that takes up a good chunk of the film’s opening. Unlike most movies that take awhile to get to the situation you’re already aware of from the advertising, Up uses its setup to create Carl’s character—from childhood to romance to marriage to old age—and to explain the significance of the house itself, and why it would occur to his character to make his escape from society via balloons (he was previously a balloon vendor at the zoo). These scenes are among the most charming and touching in the film. You don’t often get to see just how the curmudgeonly old man got curmudgeonly, and you don’t often get it in such a way that you’re constantly aware of the young man and the boy inside the old man. You do here. The character resonates as a result, and is afforded an emotional depth that needs no recourse to easy manipulations.

That section—about which I’d prefer not to reveal specifics—is also brilliantly made (it strangely feels like a French film), largely without dialogue, and is as gloriously romantic as, say, Moulin Rouge! (2001), which its hillside scenes actually resemble. Its images often recall those from an old children’s book. At the same time, it carefully details the way in which life has a way of undermining the romantic dreams of youth (something that the film will turn on its head later), so the experience is bittersweet in the bargain. In fact, in many ways, it’s not that far removed from the recent old-age drama Cherry Blossoms.

What follows is, in many ways, more traditional, but no less engaging—and certainly no less beautiful in terms of breathtaking images (images that, for a change, really benefit from 3-D). The adventure aspect of the film is very effective—and they remembered to create a truly memorable villain in the deranged genius Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). The suspense is as good—often better—than that in live-action action movies, and the stakes feel genuine at every turn. And more amazing still, the comedy is actually funny.

If it sounds like I can’t find anything in Up to be curmudgeonly about, that’s because I really can’t. I suppose I could complain that Charles Muntz would have to be well over 100 to suit the film’s chronology—but, hey, the man’s an evil genius, so why not? The very fact that someone has dared to make a movie where two of the main characters—including the star—are well beyond retirement age is in itself a cause for celebration. That it’s such a remarkably good—even great—movie makes the celebration just that much sweeter. Rated PG for some peril and action.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

30 thoughts on “Up

  1. Vince Lugo

    I’m always telling people not to call Pixar movies Disney movies because it’s an insult to Pixar. Disney has lost much of what made them great and Pixar is what Disney was. The only reason they merged with Disney is because Disney gave them a $7 billion bribe. Pixar was ready to take their business elsewhere and Disney knew that if they split, they’d have another offer within a week (probably within a day). Disney NEEDS Pixar, Pixar doesn’t need Disney.

  2. Steven

    A Pixar film that Ken actually agrees with the praise? I’m there.

  3. TigerShark

    >>The very fact that someone has dared to make a movie where two of the main characters—including the star—are well beyond retirement age is in itself a cause for celebration.

    Nothing new in that. Sean Connery was still getting lead roles well into his 60s. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were doing buddy movies in their 70s, as were Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

    What you don’t see are 70 year old women buddy movies!

  4. Sean Williams

    Nothing new in that.

    Perhaps not for cinema in general, but for a kiddie movie, it is novel.

    What you don’t see are 70 year old women buddy movies!

    Well, there’s always Harold and Maude, right?

  5. Ken Hanke

    Nothing new in that. Sean Connery was still getting lead roles well into his 60s. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were doing buddy movies in their 70s, as were Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau

    Actually, it’s very new in this format. Connery playing leads in his 60s is really more about defying his age than seriously addressing it. Plus there’s a big difference in between 60-something and pushing 80.

    Everything else you’re citing is geared entirely to the bankability of the stars. In the case of Lemmon and Matthau, it’s also based on reuniting stars who had been popular in earlier movies together. And such films are aimed at fairly specific audiences — those with a familiarity with and fondness for those stars. Those are all personality vehicles.

    Up is not a personality vehicle. Yes, it’s got Ed Asner’s voice, but it’s not built around Ed Asner — even if you could make the case that Asner is a box office draw, which I think is unlikely. It’s actually about a 78-year-old man, not a 78-year-old movie star. There is a difference.

    What you don’t see are 70 year old women buddy movies!

    That’s more or less true, though Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys is a recent exception of sorts, as is the less recent Steel Magnolias. However, Up isn’t a buddy picture in the sense of Matthau and Lemmon, since the other half of the duo is an eight-year-old Asian American kid.

  6. T_REX

    This is the best movie of the year! (so far, but will have to wait a very long time to see something even come close to this) I still am debating, in my mind, what is Pixar’s best? This or Wall-E?
    Not sure yet but one thing is certain…This film is definitely not a step down for Pixar.

    I will see this film many more times in theaters!

  7. Robin Anderson

    I thought this movie was utterly splendid, and EASILY the best movie Pixar has put out to date.

    (I’m less than impressed that their next opus is TOY STORY 3, which will probably be very been-there-done-that-twice-already.)

    Excellent score by Michael Giacchino.

    But my favorite thing in it was the montage that gets Carl from a young man to a senior citizen. I defy anyone not to be moved by it; it’s a minutes-long reminder of the splendor and bittersweetness and brevity of life. I know the kids in the audience didn’t get it, but anyone who’s passed their thirties certainly did. The sequence gives the film an emotional heft that’s missing from virtually every American animated film.

    And it’s a movie that uses it’s 3D to enhance the depths of the visuals, not to shovel crap into our faces. For that alone, it’s nearly unique. (Hitchcock’s DIAL “M” FOR MURDER, with one exception, didn’t use the easy “jump” that most 3D films inevitably resort to.) And it’s a movie that will absolutely NOT feel the same once it’s on deeveedee. If there’s a better argument for seeing movies in theatres this year, I can’t think of a better one than UP.

    (And here, I thought it was a remake of a Russ Meyer film.)

  8. Ken Hanke

    This is the best movie of the year!

    I don’t think I would really argue this, but it has some serious competition for me now that I’ve seen The Brothers Bloom, though that may be just because it’s more my “type” of film.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I defy anyone not to be moved by it; it’s a minutes-long reminder of the splendor and bittersweetness and brevity of life. I know the kids in the audience didn’t get it, but anyone who’s passed their thirties certainly did. The sequence gives the film an emotional heft that’s missing from virtually every American animated film.

    No argument from me. I will say that Justin Souther certainly got it — and he’s 26 — so it’s possible for those who haven’t passed their 30s to feel it. Granted, they might not feel it quite as strongly.

    (And here, I thought it was a remake of a Russ Meyer film.)

    Or even in the “William Higgins tradition.”

  10. TigerShark

    >>>(I’m less than impressed that their next opus is TOY STORY 3, which will probably be very been-there-done-that-twice-already.)

    I haven’t kept track of the projected plot for Toy Story 3, but Toy Story 2 was not a remake of Toy Story 1. It was a sequel that stood quite nicely on its own.

    But then… those are my two favorite Pixar films.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I haven’t kept track of the projected plot for Toy Story 3, but Toy Story 2 was not a remake of Toy Story 1. It was a sequel that stood quite nicely on its own.

    But he didn’t claim it was a remake.

  12. TigerShark

    >>>>But he didn’t claim it was a remake.

    Looked that way to me.

    >>>been-there-done-that-twice-already.)

    Doesn’t that mean that he’d thought the same movie had been done twice? Most sequels are just remakes of the first movie, granted. But not Toy Story II.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Doesn’t that mean that he’d thought the same movie had been done twice?

    That’s still not a remake. What that says to me is that the second movie is more of the same sort of thing as the first. That’s inevitable. The story isn’t radically different and it trades on established characters. That’s the whole reason to do a sequel. You might expand on the original. You might have a new character or two.

    The only sequel that I can think of that’s basically a remake of the first film is Evil Dead II. And the only sequel I can think of that’s a complete departure from the source is Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

  14. Robin Anderson

    Theoretically, the plotline of TOY STORY 3 is the Buzz Lightyear dollls getting recalled to the factory in Japan. What I mean by “been-there-done-that” is the same characters reacting in the same predictable ways that haven’t shown any growth from the first two movies…but maybe I’ll be wrong.

  15. TigerShark

    >>What that says to me is that the second movie is more of the same sort of thing as the first.

    That may be what it says to you. That’s not what it said to me. That’s all I’m sayin.

  16. Ken Hanke

    That’s all I’m sayin.

    And all I’m saying is that Robin never called Toy Story II a remake of Toy Story.

  17. TigerShark

    >>And all I’m saying is that Robin never called Toy Story II a remake of Toy Story.

    Sez you. I say he did.

  18. TigerShark

    >>And all I’m saying is that Robin never called Toy Story II a remake of Toy Story.

    Let me try it again.

    What part of “That may be what it says to you.” do you not understand?

    Why are you even arguing with me over something so trivial?

  19. Ken Hanke

    Why are you even arguing with me over something so trivial?

    Why are you seemingly obsessed with finding something to tag someone on?

  20. Tonberry

    If you’re reading this comment and have yet to see “UP,” then stop reading now and go see it. I have two reasons for this; 1.) I am going to spoil the movie and 2.) It’s really worth seeing.

    So see it now, and if you’re still reading, MAJOR SPOILERS are coming next. You’ve been warned.

    This movie made me cry a total of three times, at the beginning (the death of his wife), at the middle (when Kevin hurts her leg), and at the end (the badge). A movie hasn’t put me on a emotional, and very personal roller coaster like this since “Slumdog Millionaire.” It is so full of life.

    I am glad I never watched a single trailer for it except for the teaser. It’s a movie where I suggest the less you know, the better, and you pointed out that even the full trailer really doesn’t give away anything. I have to applaud Pixar’s attitude in revealing little of the story in their trailers; they did the same with “Wall-E.”

    I’m still undecided if “UP” is my personal favorite Pixar movie. I love “Wall-E,” “Monster’s INC,” and the first “Toy Story.” If “UP” hits the same chords it does the first time on repeated viewings, then yes, I’d say it is Pixar’s best.

  21. Ken Hanke

    Oh, and what did you think of the short movie before hand?

    Actually, I saw the film before the short was attached and I haven’t seen it yet.

  22. Dread P. Roberts

    Yes, like everyone else that has commented, I thoroughly enjoyed “Up”. The best word that I can think of is ‘refreshing’. I was so happy to see that not only was I really enjoying the movie, but my 4 year old daughter was completely engaged in the movie the whole time. It’s been said before, but one of the brilliantly enjoyable aspects of this, is how the movie manages to appeal to all age groups without ever succumbing to the tiresome pop culture, supposedly ‘witty’ references that are so often accompanied by kid flicks in these post-Shrek days.

    I have to admit that last weak I was sort of feeling a bit deprived of my emotions after reading the Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Movies that make you cry post (and the comments the followed). The reason is that when I tried to rack my brain over movies that have actually made me cry, all that I could really think about were movies that ‘almost’ made me cry, or just barely started to bring forth a tear. The truth is that even though to do become very engaged in a good movie, I just don’t really cry all that often. But I did have actual tears during “Up”. I that doesn’t deter anyone though, because despite the emotional punch, I genuinely left the theatre happier and more ‘up’beat than I was going in. I wouldn’t call this movie depressing; I would call it a beautiful representation of life.

    Oh, and what did you think of the short movie before hand?

    I thought that although the short was great in and of itself, it really helped to compliment the feature presentation. The way in which it playfully toughed on a key element of life – birth – really helped to point out the overall beauty (and life) of the main movie. For me, it helped set in place this thought process that says- “look, life is a beautiful and wonderful adventure that is best when spent amongst friends. Sometimes life is tough, and friends can be difficult to deal with, but it’s worth it to stick it out, and learn to accept and appreciate our unique differences“. In a way, “Up” kind of reminds me of “Into The Wild” (2007) only happier. It was like the perfect appetizer to the main course. Usually the opening short just feels like a separate, amusingly cute short, that doesn’t really have any tie-in to the main movie, but that didn’t feel like the case here. Even the fact that it was held in the sky felt like a pleasant tie-in.

  23. Robin Anderson

    Actually, UP reminded me of GRAN TORINO, another movie about a surly old man besieged by young Asians. And it reminded me what a total piece of shit GRAN TORINO was.

  24. Vince Lugo

    Now that I’ve seen it, I can say without reservation that Up has officially taken Toy Story 2′s place as my favorite Pixar film. I love the film’s message that you don’t have to have an adventure to have an adventure. Life, including (especially) the small things we take for granted, IS the adventure, so make it a good one. This film makes me see the world in a new way, and that’s a rare feat for any production.

    Just to clarify something, Toy Story 3′s plot isn’t “Buzz Lightyears gets recalled”, it’s “what happens when Andy grows up?” and it’s what Pixar had planned on all along. I eagerly await the results.

  25. T_REX

    Amen Vince!

    Great post. That reminds me of a great line at the very end of “Hook”. ( btw , not a good movie)
    “To Live is an awfully big adventure!”

  26. Ken Hanke

    That reminds me of a great line at the very end of “Hook”. ( btw , not a good movie)
    “To Live is an awfully big adventure!”

    The “awfully big adventure” line is actually from Peter Pan, so you needn’t worry about quoting from Hook.

    And, Piffy, whatever are you talking about writing being in Russian?

  27. T_REX

    Yes Ken I know but I just enjoyed how that one scene was filmed. Too bad the rest of the film was over produced.

    Anyway Up is amazing and the best film of the year so far.

  28. john r

    We went out of town for a long weekend and decided to see a movie to kill some time, and escape the heat. This was the only movie starting when we arrived. We were pleasantly surpised. We generally pass pixar movies, but this seemed to deal with some rather serious ideas. Several of the parents were trying to explain things to their children and were rather put out at the subject matter in a “children’s film”. Definitely better than we expected.

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