Up – review

Between Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and the back-to-back critical success of Ratatouille and Wall-E, Pixar has built up a vast store of goodwill. The consistently groundbreaking visuals are a big part of the studio’s success, but even more so, their attention to character, their flair for visual storytelling and their willingness to ignore marketability in favour of quality have endeared them to critics and audiences alike. Last year’s Wall-E pushed the limits of that philosophy through both the film’s structure —it eschewed dialogue for nearly half of its run time — and in its critique of lazy consumerism. It was also one of the year’s best movies.

On its surface, Up isn’t quite as unorthodox, but it’s still not exactly conventional for a kids’ movie. Two of its three main characters are senior citizens. The other, a portly Boy Scout, isn’t the typical precocious tyke that dominates children’s fare, either. Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), the boxy curmudgeon at the film’s centre, isn’t the kind of character that kids will clamour to have on their underoos.

Put your faith in Pixar once again, though, and you’ll witness a marvel. Any notion that Up could be a misstep is dispelled in its opening sequence, a deft and delicate summary of Carl’s life that both humanizes him and explains his motivation for hooking thousands of balloons to his house and leaving civilization behind. With that sequence, the one-dimensional (albeit lovingly 3-D rendered) coot from Up’s trailers becomes as fully realized a character as any that Pixar has brought forward.

That grounding is needed, too, because Up goes to some pretty ridiculous places. An army of talking dogs, an explorer gone mad from isolation and an exotic bird that resembles a cross between the roadrunner and dodo from Looney Tunes all figure heavily in the plot, which seems cut more from old adventure serials than from the standard pun-filled sass-fests that dominate modern 3-D animation. Every development, though, no matter how ludicrous, is brimming with so much imagination and charm that it’s impossible not to be taken in.

Exactly what those charms are, I’m not going to say — half the fun of a film like Up is being taken along for the ride, and too much detail would only spoil the experience. Suffice to say, the usual Pixar quality is present in spades. The voice work is stellar, especially Asner, as well as screenwriter and co-director Bob Peterson as the simple-minded dog, Dug. The visuals are almost absurdly rich, the humour is genuine and the sentimentality is more heartwarming than cloying. It’s nothing short of a triumph.

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