Disney/Pixar’s Up flew to astronomical heights with a successful $68.2 million opening weekend. This is the third-largest opening weekend for the studio and clearly demonstrates that Pixar is the leader in animated films. It’s not just the balloons that make this film soar head and shoulders above the rest. It is that Up is an artfully crafted tale that has wide appeal for an older generation of moviegoers. It has action and adventure and cute characters to be sure – enough to keep the target audience of the average Pixar film viewers happy, but the story centers around a retirement-aged man who has reached the point where he can look back with bittersweet memories on a life filled with love and also with regret in never having achieved the one dream that he and his late wife shared in their journey together.
This is not a film seen from the perspective of youth. We do not see the growing trend of annoyingly rude and disrespectful children or teens who are smarter than adults, nor are we subjected to rude/crude tween jokes that seem to be a staple of films targeted to the younger generation. Instead, we get a realistic look at the joys and heartaches of growing up, growing older, gaining and losing love, and the staying power of dreams.
The beginning of the movie thoughtfully depicts the story of how Carl Frederickson meets and falls in love with his future wife, Ellie, through their connected idolization of Charles Muntz, a globetrotting, swashbuckling adventurer seen in newsreels who was brought down by a science community that doubted his discoveries. We get to see Carl’s and Ellie’s life together, from their childhood days to their marriage, the heartbreak of childlessness, and the tenderness of a family struggling to keep their dream of adventure alive through everyday trials and tribulations. After Ellie’s death, we see Carl as an old man, stuck in the memory of his past as he views the changing world around him from the porch of his marriage home. It is only after he is forced to leave that home that he dares to act on the family dream of moving to Paradise Falls in South America. Carl fixes the house with balloons that take his house and the movie aloft, and the adventure begins.
Carl is accidentally joined on the journey by a young scout, Russell, who is trying to earn an Explorer badge by helping the elderly. Their relationship is funny – Carl acts the curmudgeon to Russell’s naïve earnestness. Their interactions are laced with familiar and funny incidents such as Carl suggesting the “let’s see who can keep quiet the longest” game and a whining kid, literally at the end of his rope asking, “Are we there yet?” The two brave a storm in their floating house and actually end up in Paradise Falls, where they happen upon a talking golden retriever named Dug and an exotic colorful bird, who Russell names Kevin. They also meet up with Muntz, who by now is a crazed man trying to recapture his glory days by hunting the elusive bird that brought about his downfall and that now so easily follows Carl and Russell.
Pixar’s depiction of Carl and Muntz is one of the factors that drives the film. Skillfully voiced by Ed Asner as Carl and Christopher Plummer as Muntz, they look on the screen like Spencer Tracy and Kirk Douglas. It lends a feel-good air of familiarity to the golden age of films with the iconic vision of Tracy as a sweet, but grumpy old man, and the menace of a towering Douglas, who could be both charming and threatening at the same time.
The 3-D effects also added to my enjoyment of the film. I was not annoyed in the least by having to wear the 3-D glasses, which had a sort of Elvis Costello feel to them. And I loved the feeling that I was viewing the film through the lens of a View-Master, a beloved, old childhood toy. The animation is beautifully colored and enhanced by the 3-D effect.
The few negative reviews that I have read about Up seem to be based on the fact that the beginning of the film is too sad and depressing for a typical Disney fantasy. I did not feel that at all. It is a realistic depiction of the truth of living. We grow up, we grow old, we face challenges, miss opportunities, forget dreams, and experience loss. But that is not all there is to growing older. We do not have to spend the end of our days looking backward. Carl realizes that life without Ellie does not mean an end to things he loves. He can have his memories but still create new dreams and adventures of his own. The relationship forged with Russell and Dug signifies a new beginning for Carl, and in the true Disney tradition, leave us all with a sense of hope for the future. This is a rare and welcomed feeling for anyone who may mistakenly feel that their best days are behind them and it is a moving lesson for all of us at any age.