Up

A grumpy old man is an odd choice for the protagonist of an animated feature. Usually in stories for children you want a main character that is about the same age as your intended audience, or maybe a little older. I suspect that is the safest choice. Fortunately, the geniuses who write and direct Pixar films have never been afraid of odd choices. Be it ants, race cars, or the monsters that hide under your bed, Pixar isn’t afraid to try anything and they are talented enough to make it work.

They are also unafraid of themes that might seem to appeal only to older kids or even adults. The Incredible family, for instance, dealt with very realistic and modern problems, exacerbated by their super powers but still recognizable. So it probably shouldn’t surprise us that Carl Fredericksen, voiced by Ed Asner, is a recent widower. He and his beloved wife Ellie were brought together by their shared love of adventure. They tried to save for a dream trip to Paradise Falls in Argentina, but emergencies kept coming up and they never quite made it. Now with Ellie gone, and Carl under pressure to sell the house they refurbished together, he decides to take the trip by himself. Since he is a retired balloon salesman, he ties up a gazillion helium balloons to his chimney and floats southward toward his dreams, while burdened with his memories.

Unfortunately, he has a stowaway in the form of Russell, voiced by Jordan Nagai, a dorky Wilderness Scout, looking to get his last merit badge, so he can become a senior scout and impress his father. Along the way they meet a ten foot flightless bird Russell names Kevin before he realizes she’s trying to get back to her chicks, and a dog named Dug, voiced by Bob Peterson, who’s been endowed with the power of speech by a special collar.

Directed by Pete Doctor, Up is a terrific and moving film. The first sequence which shows Carl and Ellie meeting for the first time as kids and then their subsequent lives together is as touching as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie. The films is not as gag heavy as some Pixar efforts, but the stuff with the dogs and the bird is pretty funny. The animation, of course, is awe inspiring. Carl is drawn as a blocky old man, persnickety to be sure, but somehow cuddly too.

I do want to say a word about the 3D. I had no idea it was this good. It takes a couple of seconds for your eyes to adjust, but when they do–Wow! Every once in awhile they’ll show a vista, or footage of the house floating in the air, that will just astonish you. I suppose it pulls you out of the story, but in this case, who cares? It’s spectacular. Doctor doesn’t emphasize it by shooting things at you, or at least not too often, but he uses it well.

And of course the best thing he does is tell us a real and very moving story. Even if it is a little odd.

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