They’ve done it again. Somehow, they’ve done it again. Pixar just don’t seem to know how to make a bad film, even a mediocre one.
Their latest film, Up, is about Carl, an old man who finally tries to fulfil his childhood promise to bring his house to the mysterious Paradise Falls in South America, by tethering hundreds of balloons to his it and flying it there. He’s accidentally joined on his journey by a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell, who trying to earn an “assisting the elderly” badge. Together they embark on an exciting adventure, encountering new friends and enemies along the way.
Following on the trend set by last year’s incredible Wall-E, Up is another attempt by Pixar not just to make a great animation or a great family film, but a great piece of cinema. Although there’s plenty here to keep children happy, some of the themes explored are really quite grown-up.
The opening sequence is the most heartbreaking thing Pixar have ever committed to celluloid – yes, even more than Sulley saying goodbye to Boo, Nemo’s mother becoming breakfast or Wall-E not recognising Eve. We meet Carl as a young boy, perhaps in the 1930s, obsessed with adventure and daring explorers. He meets a kookie tomboy named Ellie, it is she that he makes his promise to. In a near-silent sequence (another echo of Wall-E) we see them grow up get married, discover they can’t have children, and grow old together, always saving up for that trip to South America but always having more urgent things to spend the money on. And then, one day, Ellie is gone. Bereft without his soulmate, and with developers doing all they can to demolish the house they spent their lives together in, Carl decides to keep his promise and fly the house to Paradise Falls.
Russell, too, has his own issues to deal with. His father used to be his hero and best friend, but he’s not around very much any more. The messages of the film about loss and regret are really quite profound and unlike lesser animations with “morals”, Up really makes you think for a moment about where your life is going and what you want from it.
Heavy stuff, but while the emotional core is kept throughout, the majority of the film is a ripping adventure romp with plenty of laughs and action scenes. The writing is excellent, never hitting a wrong note, the gags are very funny (some of Pixar’s funniest), the action scenes are brilliantly crafted and Monsters Inc director Pete Docter keeps things moving at just the right pace.
The vocal performances, too, are as good as you’d come to expect from Pixar. Edward Asner as Carl in particular is very good, portraying his development throughout the film perfectly. And, yes, their “good luck charm” John Ratzenberger makes his usual appearance, after being in all 9 previous Pixar features.
Visually, Up is beautiful. The stylised character design is a good choice, working much better than recent attempts to make realistic-looking human characters. The backgrounds are rich and detailed, and as the house soars through the clouds, the colourful balloons look gorgeous. I didn’t have the chance to watch in 3D, but knowing that the film was made to be watched in the format (rather than some that are released in 3D as an afterthought) I’m sure that it’ll look stunning. The music was composed by Michael Giacchino, most famous for the Lost soundtrack and also the man who scored The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
As usual, a short film is shown before the main feature, in this case Partly Cloudy, a charming little tale about storks getting babies from clouds.
I wouldn’t quite put Up alongside the breathtaking Wall-E, or some of Pixar’s timeless classics like Toy Story or Finding Nemo but it’s certainly the best animation since Pixar’s last, and beyond that it’s one of the best films of 2009.
Up, from October 9th, cinemas nationwide