Tuesday, June 02, 2009
UP (Dirs. Pete Doctor & Bob Peterson, 2009)
Another summer, another wonderful colorful emotionally-involving awe-inspiring magical masterpiece from Pixar.
UP had me from the get go - I was crying within the first 5 minutes. It would be a critical sin to reveal the exact narrative that sets up the premise of an old man named Carl Frederickson who one day decides to tie thousands of helium balloons to his old home in order to fly it to Paradise Falls in South America, so I'll try and keep this relatively Spoiler-free.
As voiced by the gruff Ed Asner, Carl is utterly sympathetic and not completely the cranky curmudgeon you might expect, though he is tasked when finding that there's an accidental stowaway on his makeshift aircraft: an 8 year old "wilderness explorer" named Russell (Jordan Nagai) who is full of spunk. Like Asner's classic Lou Grant character, Carl hates spunk but they form an alliance regardless as they brace a dark thunderstorm that is the first of many obstacles on their journey.
"No rap music or flash dancing!" Asner mildly growls as they set out over the terrain making their way through a jungle full of exotic birds and a pack of vicious dogs that amusingly communicate through translating collars.
The boyhood hero of our protagonist, famous explorer Charles F. Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer) appears, at first welcoming but soon suspecting that his visitors are here to undo his life's work: the securing of an extremely rare tropical bird.
Saving the bird, which the plucky Russell previously befriended and named Kevin (not know it was female), from the clutches of Muntz becomes the crux of this delicious cinematic biscuit as we sail through glorious set pieces and gripping chase scenes at an invigorating pace.
UP may lose some of its sense of invention in the second half, yet it's a gem that stands with the best Pixar productions. It maybe didn't wow me as much as last summer's WALL-E but that's a tiny quibble. Pixar continues to do amazing work by consistently making quality family films that hip, intelligent adults can enjoy. The sentiment is sans cynicism and the worlds they create are eye-poppingly and mind bendingly beautiful.
It's a joyous feat to have a senior citizen as the lead battling another ornery old-timer while what could have been an obnoxious tag-along kid bounces around them. Surround them with patented Pixar inspiration and the result is pure exhilaration. Keep 'em coming, Pixar - there's no reason to look back or look down when you're this high in the sky.
Post note: There was a great UP sight gag in the season finale of The Simpsons this year. It may be the first time a movie was referenced on the show before it was even released. Actually, come to think of it, probably not.