With the kind of winning streak that Pixar’s got going for it, it’s almost impossible to temper expectations before experiencing their latest film. As of yet, it’s also unnecessary; the studio’s combination of technical wizardry and masterful storytelling has produced a remarkable string of films that have achieved commercial success and critical acclaim with equal universality.
Far be it from Pixar’s tenth feature, Up, to break the mold, and indeed, it’s one of the studio’s most touching and accomplished works to date. Not many could’ve spun gold from a story with a cranky octogenarian as its protagonist, but Pixar never panders with its storytelling, and that ends up creating a piece of art that effectively touches all ages on different emotional levels.
Up, directed by Pete Docter, who also helmed Monsters Inc., tells the story of Carl Fredricksen, a shy youngster obsessed with the adventures and exploits of world-famous explorer Charles Muntz. He dreams of going one day on an adventure similar to Muntz’s, and finds a kindred soul when he meets a plucky fireball named Ellie. Together, the two dream of traveling to Paradise Falls in Venezuela, and in the process of marrying and growing old together, that one adventure never comes around.
In an absolutely brilliant and heartbreaking piece of storytelling, their life together is shown in a wordless 10-minute prologue that is among the best things Pixar has ever accomplished.
Without Ellie, the now old and crotchety Carl is adrift in a changing world, and he finds escape from it by attaching thousands of balloons to his squat house, and lifting off from the urban jungle he’s surrounded by. He soon finds he has a stowaway, an eager Wilderness Explorer named Russell. The two travel in the floating house to a distant land where they encounter talking dogs, rare birds, and Carl’s childhood hero.
Up works both as an exotic adventure film a la Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and as an exploration of a grandfather-grandson type relationship. The adventure is full of whimsy and excitement, and the character development gives us the kind of relationship we hardly ever see acted out on screen.
Featuring great voice work from Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, co-director Bob Peterson and newcomer Jordan Nagai, and a particularly memorable score from Michael Giacchino, Up enters the top tier of Pixar’s filmography — a crowded shelf, as nearly every one of their films is top tier.
The Blu-ray Disc
Up is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Predictably, this a stunning visual release, as Pixar’s computer animation technologies keep advancing and the vibrant color palette of Up translates beautifully. Audiences who only saw the film in theaters in 3-D (as I did) will be astounded by the color range, which is far more diverse than in the flat and slightly faded presentation that 3-D glasses can produce.
As far as animation goes, this is clearly the Blu-ray reference disc, with fine detail crammed into every corner of the screen, from the thousands of distinct balloons to the slight ruffling of Carl’s hair in the wind. The green jungle landscapes are impossibly lush-looking. This is a flawless visual presentation.
Audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby DTS-HD, and it’s a crystal clear mix with an excellent range of ambient sound. It features some punchier moments as well, specifically in the climactic air battle. Giacchino’s score sounds superb in this mix.
The four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack seems a bit like an exercise in wastefulness — couldn’t the DVD and digital copy been combined onto one disc? — but the two Blu-ray discs offer a solid amount of extras. Along with the film, disc one contains the theatrical short "Partly Cloudy," which was shown before the film in some theaters. It wasn’t in mine, and I enjoyed the familiarly themed tale of a cloud that isn’t satisfied with its purpose in life. Also included is the new short "Dug’s Special Mission," which recounts the events immediately leading up to Dug encountering Carl and Russell. A short featurette on several alternate endings and a fascinating longer piece on the principal crew’s travel to South America to study the landscapes that would inspire those in the film round out the first disc.
Disc two features a making-of series of eight short documentaries that trace the film from concept through production. An alternate storyboard look at the film’s prologue is a must-see for anyone who loved that portion of the film. Also included is a pretty full-featured geography game and a selection of promotional material for the film. All of the bonus material is presented in 1080p high def.
Disc three is the DVD version of the film and disc four is the digital copy.
The Bottom Line
Pixar has done it again with Up. It would be unimaginable for fans of great storytelling, superlative animation or a fantastic Blu-ray disc to pass this one up.