What's awing about Pixar Animation Studios isn't just that, with its new release Up, it has produced another fabulous film, it's ninth such wonder dating back to 1995's Toy Story. What's truly impressive is that Pixar keeps its string of successes running along not as a monolithic creative force but as a diverse confab of voices and visions.
Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Pete Docter, Bob Peterson — these are the primaries among a crew of creators who have powered Pixar for a decade and a half. This fertile filmmaking co-op is in the midst of one of the great studio runs in Hollywood history.
Docter and Peterson are behind Up. One or both of them had a hand in Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and WALL-E. Up may be the best of that bunch. (The first half of WALL-E may be the finest thing Pixar's ever done, though it falls off precipitously as soon as humans are around.)
Up is the story of Carl Fredricksen. Starting in his childhood back in the 1920s or '30s, the opening 15 minutes of the film relates his life, from his first encounter with the girl he would one day marry, on through the march of time across the 20th century, coming to a standstill when he's at an advanced age, alone again in the world after his wife's passing. Much of this prologue is non-verbal — reminiscent of WALL-E — and is so heartwarming and heartbreaking that it brought tears to my eyes.
The rest of Up watches as Carl unsticks himself from the end-life society has relegated him to: evicted from his house in the name of progress and bound for the nursing home where he'll spend his remaining days. So Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) strikes back in beautiful, Miyazaki-esque fashion: He takes his house to the sky, lifted by a thousand multicolor balloons. You can't get away with that in live action.
Carl is headed for Paradise Falls, South America, a mysterious spot on the globe he and his wife daydreamed about for a lifetime. Along the way, he picks up some unwanted traveling companions in Russell, a young Boy Scout-type (voiced by Jordan Nagai), a loyal but dumb dog named Dug (filmmaker Peterson), and a moa/bird of paradise named Kevin. Carl comes to see them as allies, though, as he winds up pitted against Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), an adventurer/cryptozoologist who went missing when Carl was a kid. It all just makes him grumpy.
Up is gorgeous, thrilling, funny, and moving. It's also a kid's movie. I took my 51-month-old daughter, and, though she found it scary at times, she wound up enjoying it enormously. Her, um, 401-month-old dad concurred.
Opens Friday, May 29th