It has now been over a decade since PIXAR’s Up hit our screens and I believe that it remains one of their finest achievements. Despite being their 10th feature length film it is only the second to have solely human protagonists, with the first being The Incredibles in 2004. Whilst the latter is an exciting superhero movie for the ages, the former plays out as more of a “slice of life” piece. It manages to accomplish this while remaining emotional throughout, with the usual of comedy that we have come to expect from PIXAR. It is still remembered as one of the most moving films of the 2000s and upon re-watching, it isn’t hard to see why.
We follow elderly widow Carl Fredrickson as he attempts to make good on a promise to his late wife that they will one day make it to Paradise Falls, which he accomplishes via floating house. What should be a relatively easy trip is complicated by the stowaway Wilderness Explorer Scout Russel, and later his desire to protect a rare bird that he has dubbed Kevin from famous explorer Charles Muntz. At an hour and a half long, this is the shortest of PIXAR’s films so far, but it manages to pack one of the biggest punches. The opening introduces us to Carl and his eventual wife Ellie as children, allowing us to watch their relationship grow through a wordless montage set to Micheal Giachinno’s haunting score. The sequence lasts just over 5 minutes, and once we finally arrive in the present day we understand and feel Carl’s pain. He has become a curmudgeon, refusing to sell his house to contractors, and we the audience don’t want him to either. This house is filled with memories and he doesn’t want to let go. All this is jeopardised when he unwittingly hits one of the construction workers over the head with his walking stick, leading to a court ruling that he be moved to a retirement home. This is only the third time that PIXAR has shown blood on-screen, after Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, which helps add to the weight of his actions.
Carl may be the main focus, but there is as much time dedicated to Russel. As a former Scout myself, Russel hits me a little differently. I see in him so many of my fondest memories and so many other scouts that I have known. Though I’m not going back, it is children like Russel who convinced me to remain a Scout Leader for as long as I did. Watching Russel grow as a person is one of the true highlights of Up, especially when you take his backstory into consideration. He never really sees his father and seems determined to earn his Assisting the Elderly badge because his father promised to be at the ceremony. This gives Carl the child he was never able to have and Russel the father figure that he’s always wanted, leading to a beautiful dynamic. I could discuss the rare bird Kevin, but she is over-shadowed by the true animal star- Dug. Dug is a golden retriever, owned by Muntz, who is seen as a fool by his canine peers. He stumbles upon our trio accidentally and soon decides that they are better masters for him. But upon everyone’s arrival at Muntz’s airship, he is placed in ‘The Cone of Shame’ for losing the bird, Kevin. He soon breaks free, and becomes his own dog so Dug’s story is literally that of an underdog.
The case of Charles Muntz is an interesting one. We are introduced to him as an elderly man, Carl’s hero, and a possible new friend. But once he discovers that they have been hiding Kevin, his demeanour changes rapidly. He becomes determined to destroy our heroes and take Kevin back to America as his trophy. This “surprise villain” trope is one that we have now become accustomed to, and even by 2009 the general public seemed to be tiring of it. I, for one, think it is an excellent trope if done well, and it is definitely done well here. PIXAR had used this trope before, and have gone on to use it several times, but Charles Muntz remains one of the best, and most terrifying examples.
After 23 years and 10 feature films, it’s evident just how fast computer animation was advancing. The scenery is more stunning than ever, with a research team embarking on a trip to South America in order to ensure they had the correct plants for the area. Not a single leaf is left un-animated, while the physics of the water and the lightning are still astounding. Perhaps Up‘s biggest achievement remains the 20,622 individually animated balloons that it takes to lift Carls house off the ground. There is an impressive variety of vibrant colours and the light shining through them leaves the most stunning of reflections. It remains one of the most beautiful feats of animation I have ever seen, even after all this time. These visuals are matched perfectly by the score. This is Giachinno’s third time working for PIXAR but his first without director Brad Bird, and he absolutely nails it. There are moments of whimsy and wonderment alongside dread and despair, making for a stunning experience. Up may tackle with issues like letting go of your past and meeting your heroes, but I think that one word describes it best: Stunning.
Until Next Time…