Weekend Review: Up

An old curmudgeon, faced with a difficult turn of events, waves the world good-bye in a manner only possible in fantasy. The old man does what we might do in the same situation, if reality allowed it to happen.

Of course, his escape doesn’t happen easily. An eager and somewhat nerdy Boy Scout Wilderness Scout gets stuck along for the ride, and adventure awaits them in a lost world.

Cast and Crew

Directors: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson

Writer: Bob Peterson

Ed Asner as Carl Fredericksen
Jordan Nagai as Russell
Christopher Plummer as Charles Muntz
Bob Peterson as Dug and Alpha
Elie Docter as Ellie
Jeremy Leary as Young Carl
John Ratzenberger as Construction Foreman Tom

Complete cast and crew at the imdb


After his life takes some dark and lonely turns, an old man decides to wave good-bye in a remarkable, fantastic fashion and, in the process, keep an old promise he made to his deceased wife. An unintended stowaway complicates matters, and the adventures and secrets awaiting them both in a lost valley are not the ones they expected to find.

High Point:

Up has thrills and danger, but it doesn’t consist entirely of thrills and danger. And the fate of the world isn’t at stake. (Seriously, why does the fate of the world always have to be at stake in American adventure/fantasy movies?) The film also serves up some very funny jokes. It even scores a few of those pop-culture allusions so popular in hip movies and television shows. However, it doesn’t clutter them into every available space. The writers (Pixar has writers, not creatives, you can tell) give the characters room to develop and breathe and be human. The remainder of my High Points you may find under “Emotional Response.”

Except for this—kudos to Pixar for letting the villain die.

Low Point:

I am recovering from surgery, and so it’s a little hard on me when I laugh.

The Scores:

Originality: 5/6. Sad statement, it is, that a film with some fairly familiar tropes and character types seems stunningly original because (1) It isn’t a remake, reboot, or rehash of a beloved existing property, (2) Pixar’s executives actually say that it’s important to develop the story and characters, and worry about how it will be marketed later.

Even before Up gets off the ground, it proves charmingly inventive. Pixar has been funnier before, but I don’t know if they’ve been better.

Animation: 5/6. The animators have designed a believable animated world, filled with plausible (and occasionally ridiculous) details. Carl’s house looked like the place a man and his wife have shared for so many years, a place he wouldn’t want to leave. At the same time, Up uses the absurdities and distortions of animation to advantage, when, for example, Russell climbs over Carl’s time-worn face. The 3-D effects work beautifully, but are not necessary to the enjoyment of the film. My only complaint is that the 3-D does not consistently work so well with quick movement. Coraline actually managed this one aspect slightly better.

Story: 6/6.

Voice Acting: 6/6. Ed Asner should win an award for his voice acting, a major part in Carl’s believability as a character, while Jordan Nagai captures perfectly that annoyingly eager and garrulous kid we all know. The talking dog pack also includes some particularly amusing uses of voice and characterization.

Production: 6/6.

Emotional Response: 6/6. The easy approach, the predictable approach, would be to show us a curmudgeon and have the little kid finally awake his humanity. And sure, it’s a family film, so that happens. But it doesn’t happen the way you might expect. When we meet Carl, he’s an adventurous, slightly nerdy kid who dreams of being an explorer. He meets a like-minded little girl. We follow their life together, to the point of her death, decades later, and then we see the curmudgeon, the old man who has outlived his wife and (he imagines) their dreams and just wants the twenty-first century to leave him alone. He’s flawed, aging, lonely, and sometimes very angry.

But yeah, he has heart. So does the kid. That’s why we root for them.

Overall: 6/6. The film tells us that you can pursue your dreams. It may take you years. Some of them won’t come true. Others will, but not as you imagine. Some will be wonderful. Others will leave you disillusioned.

Pixar understands what it means to make a children’s film that the adults will enjoy. It doesn’t mean having the adult citizens of Whoville play “keys” in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! In Up, “adult” means the film includes layers and revelations and jokes that transcend the kiddie level of comprehension, without interfering with the kids’ enjoyment of the events. It means the film addresses real themes, not forced platitudes. We have here a fun fantasy filled with ideas about family, relationships, responsibilities, hopes, dreams, disillusionment, and deciding what’s important. We can enjoy them movie and ponder its meaning. As in Wall-E, modern technology has been used in the service of a story that takes a crotchety look at a few things that modern society has spectacularly wrong.

I wish the thinking at Pixar ran Hollywood.

In total, Up receives 40/42.

4 replies on “Weekend Review: Up”

  1. The short film that precedes it isn’t as good as “Presto” (the one that appeared before Wall-E), but it is fun, imaginative– and great that Pixar continues the old tradition of showing short cartoons before the main feature.

  2. This may not be the best place to ask, but “surgery?” Nothing serious I hope.

    I’ve never heard the term “creatives” before. Can you expand on it?

    I’m glad this got the B42 thumbs up. I’m going to wait for the DVD only because a theatre full of loud kids isn’t worth the price of admission :) My last Pixar theatre experience, Cars I believe, was horrendous – a seven year old dumped popcorn on my head.

    Up reminds me of the Pixar I fell in love with. Really looking forward to it.

    • 1. No, nothing really serious. Thanks.

      2. The term “creatives” has been thrown around for awhile to refer to those who actually create the movie and so forth, as opposed to those who select the project, decide on marketing, say what should go into the script to appeal to particular demographic audiences, and so forth. Often used disparagingly now by those who feel scripts should be more than just a way to create advertisement possibilities and sell spin-off merchandise.

      3. This would hold up on a small screen, but you’ll miss some great shots. Maybe we got lucky, but the kids in the theatre were well-behaved.

    • I’m going to wait for the DVD only because a theatre full of loud kids isn’t worth the price of admission

      Take it from someone who worked in a theatre for three years: check out the 9pm shows Saturday night in week two or three, and you’ll be fine.

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