Up: House Ahoy

upI saw this movie on DVD just a few days ago and never thought of the fact that it was originally released in theaters with 3D effects. Considering the quality of every film that Pixar makes, I imagine that the 3D version of Up is done in the best taste possible, in the vein of Avatar (2009). Still, I have to say that this movie is yet another example of why 3D is superfluous; who needs those effects at the prize of a murky screen and clunky glasses when 2D is this gorgeous?

We first meet Carl Fredricksen as a dorky kid who idolizes the adventurer Charles Muntz, a man who had explored a place called Paradise Falls in South America but was eventually accused of having fabricated the skeleton of a giant bird he claimed to have found there. Carl soon meets a girl, Ellie, who turns out to be another Muntz fan. It is the beginning of a lifelong friendship that evolves into love and marriage. Unfortunately, they can’t have children, but their relationship is strong and when Ellie dies many decades later the now geriatric Carl is heartbroken. Recently, a land developer has been trying to talk Carl into selling his old house and make way for urban development, but Carl refuses.

However, an incident forces him to take drastic measures. A former toy balloon vendor, he uses his expertise to achieve something he and Ellie always dreamed of – a journey for Paradise Falls begins when thousands of helium balloons that are tied to the house lifts it up into the sky. Carl doesn’t realize though that he has an involuntary passenger in the form of a boy scout named Russell.

Longing for the impossible
Pete Docter (who co-directed the film with his co-writer Bob Peterson) previously made the entertaining Monsters, Inc. (2001), but Up is more of an accomplishment. It has everything one expects from a Pixar film. That includes awe-inspiring locations from South America, which were thoroughly explored by the filmmakers. It has a terrific, sweet sense of humor, represented chiefly by Carl and Russell (whose age difference provides moments of fun), but also by a pack of dogs in Paradise Falls whose thoughts are conveyed in bizarre and funny ways via necklaces that are designed by their ingenious master. There’s also a clumsy bird whom Russell nicknames Kevin that’s good for a few laughs.

A sense of imagination, a longing for the impossible, colors the journey to this mystical place in ways that add to the charm of the story. But there is also danger ahead for Carl and Russell; they make a discovery in Paradise Falls that lands them (and Kevin) in jeopardy and this action-filled final half-hour of the film is a lot of fun… even though by then one begins to feel the effect of a formula that has been put to use in many other previous Pixar films.

Still, Up deserves to be included in the pantheon of Pixar’s best, because the most memorable thing about it is how the filmmakers handle emotions. Carl may be a grumpy old man for most of the story, but his relationship with Ellie is brought to life in heartrending ways, beginning with a brilliant, touching montage that covers this couple’s whole lives together. It’s done in the same way as that unforgettable sequence in Toy Story 2 (1999) that illustrated how a doll was loved and eventually left behind by her owner.

Michael Giacchino’s music score blends nostalgia with more action-filled tunes. But much like the movie as a whole, the emotional content trumps the adventure… and the filmmakers find perfect roles for two elderly gentlemen, Ed Asner and Christopher Plummer, who certainly stand out, regardless of 3D.

Up 2009-U.S. Animated. 96 min. Color. Produced by Jonas Rivera. Directed by Pete Docter. Screenplay: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: Ed Asner (Carl Fredricksen), Christopher Plummer (Charles Muntz), Jordan Nagai (Russell), Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger, Elie Docter.

Trivia: In the French version of the film, Charles Aznavour does the voice of Carl.

Oscars: Best Animated Feature, Original Score. BAFTA: Best Animated Film, Music. Golden Globes: Best Animated Feature Film, Original Score.

Last word: “One thing we really made conscious efforts toward was the idea of stylization, of pushing that more than we have in the past. If you measure us by our head scale, we’re seven heads tall, and Carl is three. It’s a very cartoon world. And that was grown out of the story itself – you have a movie where a house flies into the sky. So you have to kind of create a world where that’s believable within the context of the design. But it’s also where I think the strength of animation is, in the sense of caricature and simplicity. So we really tried to push that. I think it could go a lot further, but it was a good step for us.” (Docter, A.V. Club)

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