It’s never easy to admit when a movie has brought you to tears. Some people relish the opportunity for a good sob in the cinema. Others, like myself, less so. However, Pixar’s latest film Up only took 10 minutes to turn me into a weeping sack of mush. Directors Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and Bob Petersen have delivered yet another touching, romantic and emotionally devastating masterpiece. Oh, and it’s also the best kids film of the year.
Having moved on from connoisseur rats and lovelorn robots, the strongest brand name in the business has tried their hand at genuine human drama. And they succeed. Big time. Up gives us the heartbreaking story of an elderly widower named Carl Frederickson who goes to fantastical lengths to fulfill a promise to his late wife. He ties tens of thousands of balloons to the roof of his home and literally uproots his abode, steering it all the way to South America. A clever plan, right? Well, I just hope that ingenuity returns when he needs to go to the bathroom and realises that the plumbing is kaput.
Our septuagenarian sad sack is voiced by the legendary Ed Asner, surely the unlikeliest movie star of 2009. He’s grumpy all right, but there is a grandfatherly quality that makes him ultra-lovable. He is also a more engaging action hero than the entire cast of GI Joe combined. He is joined on this adventure by a precocious boy-scout/stowaway named Russell (Jordan Nagai) who impressively walks the tightrope between adorable and annoying. He’s just like a real kid, which is the biggest compliment I can pay to an animated character.
Of course, there is a villain (voiced by Christopher Plummer), as well as plenty of hilarious antics and gripping action sequences, all rendered in glorious computer animation. The way Up dazzles the eye is one thing; the way it touches the heart is another. The relationship between Carl and Russell is truly touching, but the real anchor is Carl’s relationship with his late wife Ellie. Although we only get to know her in a short montage at the beginning of the film (the one that left me an emotional mess), her presence illuminates the entire picture. If you can make it through the picture without shedding a tear, I would have your ducts checked.
The image that will forever be associated with Up is that flying house. There is something so poetic about that image, perhaps more so than any other frame of animation that has been drawn by the talented folks at Pixar. It is a wonderfully ingenious concept and presents a universal desire that surely everyone shares: “What if I could just fly away?” It’s as fantastical as an elephant flapping his ears to achieve flight and I believe it will become just as iconic. Has there ever been a bolder moment in a children’s film than one in which the lead character essentially sets off on his final journey into the heavens; the journey of a man at the end of his time on Earth with the ultimate purpose of reuniting with the late love of his life. The poetry and melancholic beauty of this decision is overwhelming. It’s not necessarily bleak or ominous; in fact it’s kind of peaceful. While the emotional drama of Up cuts deepest, there is still this vibrant element of adventure and madness that makes the film so much fun. It is also the most kid-friendly of the recent Pixar films. While I adored the dystopian drama of WALL-E and the French farce of Ratatouille, there is just something so FUN about Up.
Carl and Russell’s adventure in South America is full of surprises that I don’t dare spoil here. I will reveal that they are joined on their journey by a goofy dog called Dug, whose collar impressively gives voice to his thoughts. He introduces himself by saying “I have just met you, and I love you!” Funny. From the first frame of this beautiful picture, I was thinking the exact same thing.