The new Disney/Pixar collaboration,Â Up, has just opened to some of the best reviews the studio’s ever received. While it’s a very enjoyable film, I have to say it certainly isn’t among their best, in spite of the talent behind it.
As a child, Carl Fredricksen (at this point voiced by Jeremy Leary) is a huge fan of famed adventurer/explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer). Young Carl is a true devotee, keeping up with all of Muntz’ doings and is shocked to the core when one of his archaeological finds is disputed as a fraud. While Muntz sets off to clear his name, Carl happens to cross paths with Ellie (voiced by Elie Docter), who is just as much a fan of Muntz as Carl. The two become close, eventually falling in love, marrying and growing old together…all while keeping a coin jar in which they save whatever money they can to one day take a trip to Paradise Falls, the “land lost in time” for which Muntz set out. Carl makes the ultimate kids’ promise–crossing his heart–that he will one day take Ellie there, but before he can, she passes away.
As more time passes, the world changes around Carl (now voiced by Ed Asner), until the day comes when a heartless construction company building a new plaza around his old house takes advantage of a momentary lapse in Carl’s judgment to find a way to evict him. Rather than leave his house, however, Carl–a balloon salesman of many years–ties hundreds of balloons to his house, creates makeshift sails out of bedsheets, and lifts off, porch and all, in an attempt to finally make it to Paradise Falls and thereby keep his promise (in spirit) to Ellie. It’s only after Carl’s lifted off that he comes to find an unintentional stowaway; Russell(voiced by Jordan Nagai), a Wilderness Scout intent on receiving his merit badge for assisting the elderly. Russell was on Carl’s porch when the old man set sail, and of course Carl now has no choice but to take the impetuous lad along with him.
Up was directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and Bob Peterson (who also wrote the screenplay). This is Docter’s second helming effort and Peterson’s first. While the duo capably steer the ship together, the script unfortunately hits several expected plot points, both before and after Carl and Russell reach Paradise Falls. There is also a little coda to the story which, while fitting in with the standard happy ending one comes to expect from a Disney film, feels just a bit too pat in this day and age, especially since the story bravely takes its time in the beginning to lay out the course of Carl and Ellie’s life together for better and worse, including the implied fact that at one point Ellie has a miscarriage while she and her husband are expecting a baby.
The ending and somewhat standard character arcs notwithstanding, Up is still quite fun to watch and easily enjoyable. Once Carl and Russell do indeed reach the valley where Paradise Falls is located, they quickly make friends with a bizarre ostrich-type bird which the boy names “Kevin,” and Dug the talking dog (voiced by Peterson), who it turns out serves a now elderly Muntz, who has been trying to capture Kevin for all these years. There’s a great gag with a voice translator not working right for Muntz’ primary doberman hunter (voiced by Delroy Lindo), and a dogfight in the sky which initially makes a clever nod to the original Star Wars, which the hardcore fans will spot immediately.
Up is the first Disney/Pixar collaboration to be presented in patented Disney Digital 3-D, but honestly, the story doesn’t warrant it. While there is quite a bit of action, very little seems to be designed with true use of three dimensions in mind. Plus, a fair portion of the film has Carl and other characters just sitting around and talking — hardly thrill-packed moments worthy of a 3-D presentation. Something along the lines of The Incredibles or even Wall-E are the types of films which deserve the 3-D treatment. Also, while the standard Pixar preceding short Partly Cloudy is amusing and definitely somewhat touching, it also doesn’t fit in with the best in the company’s pantheon.
Don’t let these few negatives deter you, however. Up is still a film that can be thorougly enjoyed by the entire family, and is worth the theater visit overall…but spare yourself the couple extra bucks for 3-D and see it in standard. You’ll be grateful later, trust me.