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“Up”- (Chris)
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date:
Special Features:

Audio commentary / 2 animated shorts / 2 featurettes


Disney/Pixar’s “Up” is such a wonderful film, one that can make you laugh just as much as it can wow you with its sense of good old fashioned adventure. It features characters that are both funny and endearing, which is to say that they surpass mere cartoon goofiness and go for something more meaningful. ***

The plot is a harrowing journey and a flight of fancy, both of which can easily appeal to any child that loves hearing a good bedtime story. Because many adults keep that part of themselves alive (and I count myself as one of them), this movie can appeal to them too. It’s become quite clear that the Pixar team really knows what they’re doing; even after the release of ten films, they remain as fresh and exciting as ever. They’re not merely masters of computer animation, but also of direction and screenwriting. ***

Released theatrically in both 2-D and 3-D formats, “Up” tells the gratifying story of Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Edward Asner), an elderly man who grew up loving adventure and idolizing an aviation expert named Charles Muntz. For many years, Carl was happily married to his childhood best friend, Ellie, also an adventure lover. Upon her death, he finds himself both longing for excitement and in a struggle with construction workers, who are building high rises directly next to his quaint wooden house. ***

So as to escape spending his remaining days in a retirement home, Carl ties thousands of balloons to his home, allowing it to lift off its foundation and sail through the air like an airship. He hopes to fulfill on the dream he and Ellie shared: To go to the South American wonder of nature known as Paradise Falls. ***

Much to Carl’s chagrin, he’s picked up a passenger. Enter Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), a Boy Scout very intent on earning his final merit badge (assisting a senior citizen). Inexperienced but admirably determined to explore the wilderness, pudgy little Russell immediately gets on the old man’s nerves; he’s not a companion so much as he’s extra baggage, a talkative young man who inadvertently makes things more difficult than they need be. ***

As time goes on, however, Carl begins to see Russell in a different light, not as a liability, but merely as a boy who’s still in the process of growing up. He’s at just the age of discovering the difference between things that sound fun and things that actually aren’t. He’s also at the age when he tries to make sense of why he so rarely sees his father, who works all the time. ***

Upon their arrival in South America, Carl and Russell begin the long and dangerous process of pulling the floating house towards a majestic waterfall, where Ellie had always wanted their house to be located. They have to hurry, though; the helium in the balloons is starting to lose its lifting power. ***

As the journey forward, they meet an elderly Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), who has gone mad with the desire to prove to the world that a rare species of bird actually exists. When he learns that one of those birds has been spotted by Carl and Russell – a tall, brightly feathered fowl Russell names Kevin – it becomes a life or death struggle for survival, not merely for the bird, but for everyone involved. ***

There’s a beauty to this movie that goes beyond the vivid color palate and striking scenery. The story is a perfect combination of mature themes and childlike whimsy, and the characters can tickle our funny bones just as easily as they can warm our hearts. They’re not shallow cartoon caricatures but fully developed individuals with surprisingly realistic personality quirks. You actually care for them. ***

This applies, strangely enough, to a series of dogs owned by Charles, each equipped with a special collar that translates their mannerisms into human speech; the lead dog is an adorable golden retriever named Dug (voiced by Bob Peterson, the film’s writer and co-director). In spite of their ability to speak, the emotional essence of real dogs remains unchanged – Dug loves unconditionally and proves useful, but he’s also very easily distracted by small things like tennis balls and the possibility that a squirrel is nearby. ***

There’s also beauty to film’s simplicity, which basically reaffirms the idea that convoluted plots and cumbersome details don’t always make a film more interesting. There are essentially five main characters, and they’re engaged in a story that aims to entertain rather than challenge. Obviously, there are times when story should aim to challenge. Case in point: 2008’s Disney/Pixar film “WALL-E,” which achieved greatness in large part because of its well-rounded social commentary on wastefulness and gluttony. ***

But in the case of a film like “Up,” there was no reason to make a point of any kind; even its message of living life to the fullest isn’t forced on the audience. It just wanted to be a charming story, and a charming story it is. ***

Special Features:

This DVD includes an audio commentary by directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson as well as two animated shorts: “Partly Cloudy,” which preceded “Up” during its theatrical release, and “Dug’s Special Mission,” an all-new cartoon made just for the DVD. Also included are two featurettes: “The Many Endings of Muntz,” which explores the numerous ideas proposed to dispose of the Charles Muntz character, and “Adventure is Out There,” a documentary covering the filmmakers and their trek across the mountains of South America. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen format and features Dolby 5.1 Digital sound.

Final Words:

Young and old alike will adore “Up,” one of the year’s most delightful films.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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