Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Writers: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
Producer: Jonas Rivera
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Production Companies: Walt Disney Pictures presents a Pixar Animation Studios film
Principal Cast: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, Bob Peterson, John Ratzenberger, David Kaye
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In an extraordinary year for animation (Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Monsters vs Aliens, The Princess and the Frog and many others), Pixar again came out on top with another extraordinary production, Pete Docter and Bob Peterson's Up (2009). Initially taking its cue from Conan Doyle's The Lost World, it quickly goes its own way, telling the story of elderly widower Carl (the story of his relationship with his late wife Ellie is the subject of the much talked-about montage, one of the most moving sequences in any animated film) and his intends to live his lifelong dream of visiting the legendary Paradise Falls by attaching hundreds of balloons to his house and simply floating there. He doesn't count on his reluctant travelling companion however, a young Wilderness Explorer Scout named Russell who stows away for the ride.
What the unlikely companions find in the jungles of South America really is best discovered for yourself and, besides, is not really the point. Up is unusual for an animated film in that it manages to explore emotional concerns more effectively and movingly than many a live action effort. It's a film about growing old, abut facing the disappointment of childhood dreams that never came true (and more important doing something to rectify that) and, in an age where youth is valued above all else, it's a film about growing old. None of this is done with any kind of brow-furrowing, chin-stroking seriousness though - it celebrates the elderly by having two arthritic pensioners trying to stand up to each other in cinema's funniest sword fight. And to make sure that it doesn't become too serious or adult-oriented, Up features two of the most loveable and hilarious talking animals ever, multi-coloured jungle bird Kevin and Dug the dog.
As you'd expect from Pixar the voice cast is outstanding. Pixar have never let the actors become subservient to the animation as is all too often the case with some of their rivals. Here, Ed Asner is both heartbreaking and inspirational as the elderly Carl, Jordan Nagai manages to avoid the usual clichés of child characters in animation by just being an initially annoying but ultimately loveable bundle of energy and boundless enthusiasm, and Christopher Plummer is simply outstanding in the complex role of Carl's boyhood hero who fails to live up to the older Carl's ideals.
It almost goes without saying that the film looks exceptional. For fourteen years Pixar had been constantly evolving the technologies that brought CGI animation to life and Up nudges their evolution along just that little bit further. The subtle colour palette is compromised somewhat in 3D (an unnecessary gimmick that does little to enhance Up's real strengths, its story and characters) but looks glorious in standard 2D.
It sometimes seems "uncool" or at least unfashionable to talk about such concepts, but Up is unashamedly a film about love (for life, for spouses, for new-found friends), the spirit of adventure and simple human resilience in the face of often considerable adversity. It does the unthinkable in post-millennial Hollywood and puts a pensioner at centre stage where he is allowed to come across as a very normal person - a bit grumpy perhaps but a long way from the stereotypes that most older people have become in Hollywood films where, for the most part, they are befuddled figures of fun or semi-mystical mentor figures. Carl is neither of these things - he's a man who grew old holding onto his childhood dream despite the best efforts of life to knock it out of him and who - bad back or no bad back - finally gets to see it come true.
It's all inspiring stuff, simultaneously deeply moving, hilariously funny and determinedly optimistic. It was the tenth of Pixar's animated features and it demonstrated just how far the studio was from running out of creative steam. Technically brilliant and emotionally engaging it's also quite probably the only animated film you'll ever see that contains an homage to Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982)...