Opening weekend for Up must have inspired Take Your Grand-kids to the Movies day, making my husband and I stick out like not-childlike, but not-wrinkly thumbs. As we settled in between the aching joints and the bouncing sugar highs, I cried with the grandparents and squealed in delight with the kiddies. Somewhere along the way, we all found a new sense of adventure and I wanted a balloon.
The story is about Carl Fredrichson (Edward Asner), an elderly man who has longed for adventure all his life. His idolization of the explorer, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) is how he met his wife, Ellie, as a child. We get a quick scene of the two bonding over Ellie’s Adventure Book and a promise to go to Paradise Falls one day, then we’re shown a short montage of their lives together as a married couple. It’s in these first few minutes of the film that we understand and bond with Carl, through the highs and lows of his life with Ellie. In mere moments, we see dreams grow and then become quietly crushed. We see the couple save change for their big trip to Paradise Falls, but life just gets in the way and soon that dream is forgotten too. As the sun is setting on their time together, Carl tries to make that big adventure come true for Ellie, but time runs out. That quick look at Carl and Ellie’s life together is one of the most emotionally poignant moments I’ve ever experienced in film, animated or otherwise.
After Ellie is gone, Carl’s life looks so drained and boring. All around his beautifully colored house, which he associates directly to Ellie, there’s construction going on and swirling dust. It seems the construction manager is just waiting for Carl to either die or slip up so he can take the land and build on it. After Carl panics and hits a man with his cane trying to save his precious mailbox (it has he and Ellie’s names and hand prints!), they find a way to force Carl into a retirement home. But the night before he is to be picked up, Carl hatches a crazy plan to strap thousands of helium filled balloons to his house and fly it to Paradise Falls.
Here’s the thing about the magic of a floating house, no one cares how improbable it is. We love Carl, we want him to escape and find his adventure. And the mix of beautiful colors soaring across the sky and the perfect musical score only elevates the wonder and happiness we feel. It’s perfect and even my cynical mind didn’t doubt this wonderful event for a moment.
Problem is, Carl has a stowaway. Russell (Jordan Nagai), an enthusiastic Wilderness Explorer, had come knocking on his door trying to achieve his Assisting the Elderly badge only to be sent on a Snipe hunt (the same kind my dad would send me on!). Now Carl must fly his house to Paradise Falls and watch over Russell. Along the way, as they walk the house across a South American tepui, they encounter a rare giant bird, Kevin, a pack of talking dogs and their master.
In my opinion, Up is the most beautifully, thoughtfully animated film by Pixar yet. The characters have that chunky feel, based off simple shapes with details built on. A great example is Carl’s ear, get a good look at it. The color coordination throughout the film is striking with all the bright and happy colors. We see them on the house, on the balloons, on Russell and on Kevin. When we get to South America, the landscape of the tepui is amazing. Some of the artists from Pixar actually traveled to South America to see a tepui to bring real life details into the landscape shown in Up. It is a new world to explore, full of whimsically shaped rocks, odd and beautiful plants, a giant waterfall and a maze called “the twisty rocks.” It’s evident that the artists brought back some amazing details from their own adventure.
What we find in Up is a story about adventure in all forms. Carl has this need to fulfill his childhood promise to Ellie, even if she’s already passed, not realizing the grand adventure he has already given her. When Russell comes along, there’s prospect of a new chapter for Carl, but he can’t let go of Ellie, at least not without her permission. What we walk away with after seeing Up is that adventure doesn’t always come from dangerous landscapes in far away places, it comes from being a part of other people’s lives and just living your own.
“Adventure is out there!”