Is it possible to review Up without using any flight-related puns? Find out as RVANews braves a kid-infested theater to see Pixar’s latest masterpiece.
Up is the sort of movie that you go see if you never see movies. A sophisticated grown-up drama masquerading as a kid’s adventure, Up takes the audience through an emotionally complex roller coaster while keeping all but the very smallest children engaged. It’s almost unfortunate that Pixar’s movies are so successful with kids and adults alike, because it makes it tough to have a nice, adult date to see this (believe it or not) super romantic movie on opening weekend without being overwhelmed by counterromantic little kids. But whether you’re surrounded by excited, occasionally-shouting-advice-to-the-screen imps or the silence of your own couch, Up is sure to jump right up into your lap warmly and give you a big sloppy lick in the face.
After (the extraordinarily adorable, customary short cartoon and) the lengthy expository backstory-establishing first act, septuagenarian Carl Fredricksen (vocally played by either Lou Grant or Captain Davies, depending on exactly how much older than me you are) decides to tie balloons to his house and fly it to South America. The weird thing about Carl, from a movie criticism perspective, is that in his dotage he’s become kind of a dick. Covetously possessive of things and clinging to memories, Carl is a surprising choice for a Pixar protagonist because, unlike your Woodys and your Nemos and even your Lightning McQueens, it’s not like ol’ Carl is charismatic or hilarious. But, somehow, I don’t care how many bodies Carl leaves in his wake (parent alert: there is blood in this one). Convincing us to love that old codger is one of the most incredible things Pixar has pulled off yet, and that includes the time they convinced me that a toaster could fall in love with an iPod.
Naturally, Carl winds up with a group of misfits and, against all odds, wins the ball game at the end with a crazy play he just made up. Ha! Just kidding. But seriously about the misfits though. Carl’s eventually-acquired raiding party is quite a crew of useless rejects, from the ambiguous boy scout equivalent Russell, to Dug, the most accurately depicted soul of a golden retriever ever captured on film.
Tying the entire movie into a neat little bow is the style chosen by director Pete Doctor. Doctor stays consistent to the visual style of his Pixar directorial debut Monster’s Inc., with more of a cartoonish sensibility than the dust- and lens-flare-filled WALL·E or the warm, European feel of Ratatouille. It works well for the material, whether we’re in Carl’s flying house or in the wilderness of South America.
The cartoonish style fits because the entire idea is so cartoonish. Like don’t get me wrong, here, things definitely don’t make sense occasionally. As the house was flying through the air using balloon-aided lift, I thought thoughts about plumbing and refrigeration. How’s the food storage situation going to work when you’re in the sky? And for such an old man, Carl’s quite the spry agile individual when he wants to be.
But then I’d get a good look at Carl, who was modeled as squarely as his house, as in with right angles making up his jaw, or Russell, who is as round as the balloons pulling the house through the sky, and I realize that the tone Pixar was trying to strike here was approximately three-quarters of the way from a documentary to a Road Runner cartoon.
And not to get too tediously subtexty, here, especially because I ought to probably leave that kind of thing to trained professionals with liberal arts educations, but creating the visual analogy of Carl : house :: Russell : balloon doesn’t strike me as an accidental or entirely aesthetic choice, and it’s likely that it’s not the only case in the movie where a thing is a symbol for another thing. Pixar’s continually increasing mastery of the subtle art of saying things without saying them is only going to help their movies become classics long after their current success.
But none of that crazy stuff needs to matter to you. What’s important here is the emphatic declaration that the Golden Age of Pixar isn’t over yet.