Pixar's "Up" is a lighthearted adventure movie — and heartfelt portrait of two lives spent as one. Review by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.
I envy kids growing up with Pixar movies, of which Pete Docter’s sublime “Up” is the latest — they’ll be able to experience each of these beautifully made films in two ways. Children can experience “Up” as a lighthearted adventure, filled with talking dogs and perilous chases and dotted with lollipop-bright balloons. Grown-ups will join their laughter, yet may blink away a few tears at the movie’s rich, heartfelt portrait of two lives spent as one.
Carl (voiced, with charm but never sentimentality, by Ed Asner) is a 78-year-old recent widower and retired balloon seller, living alone in the whimsical Victorian house he once shared with his wife, Ellie. In a few wordless minutes early in the film, we see the quiet joy of their life together: reading in side-by-side armchairs while holding hands; lying on a picnic cloth staring at the clouds; consoling each other when they learn she is unable to have children; waltzing together in their candlelit living room; dreaming of the exotic travel they’ll be able to afford someday — in short, completing each other.
Forced to leave his home due to urban development springing up on all sides (it’s a situation that mirrors that of Edith Macefield’s cottage in Ballard, which made headlines in 2006), Carl decides to do right by Ellie’s memory and follow their mutual dream of traveling to South America. With the aid of thousands of balloons attached to the house, and a stowaway 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) determined to get his merit badge for “assisting the elderly,” Carl’s off on an exotic adventure — one of which Ellie would surely have approved.
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“Up,” the 10th Pixar film, is the first to be presented in 3D, and while the depth effects subtly enhance the beauty of the film (particularly in the South American chase sequences), the film would have no less impact without it. As always, the expression Pixar’s animators are able to give their characters is remarkable: Carl’s blockish face with its square glasses has the range of a great actor, as we watch him express varying degrees of anger, fear, yearning, stubborn courage, and, ultimately, quiet contentment. The bright bouquet of the balloons, soaring peacefully through the cornflower-blue sky, is a happy touchstone throughout the film; and a cherished photograph album is rendered beautifully, its fading colors seemingly painted by memory and by love.
Most Pixar movies feature talking animals; this one does, too, with a twist: A pack of dogs who pursue Russell and Carl in South America (egged on by the movie’s villain, fallen explorer Charles F. Muntz) can speak, thanks to some high-tech collars. They sound exactly as you’d imagine dogs might: eager to please, chatty and highly distractible, frequently interrupting their sentences with “SQUIRREL!” The dogs provide comic relief as Carl and Russell create their own frequently exasperated bond — and find that they’re no longer lonely.
Like “The Wizard of Oz” (which shares with “Up” a flying house), “Up” is ultimately about how adventure means little without friends by our side — and about how there’s no place like home. It’s a joy to watch, for any age.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org