"Up" doesn't soar to the same heights as "Finding Nemo" or "Wall·E," but it's another triumph from Pixar Animation -- and another cartoon that will likely be appreciated more by adults than their offspring.
When I first saw previews for "Up," it looked like a short film about a crotchety old man who takes his house to the skies via a cloud of helium balloons, with a tubby Boy Scout as stowaway.
A delightful concept, to be sure, but how could they sustain such a fanciful notion over more than 90 minutes?
The simple answer is, they don't. Or rather, they don't try to.
The oldster reaches his destination fairly early in the movie. It's the adventures he has after he's gotten where he thought he was going that constitute the story's real heart.
Carl Fredricksen's life has been something of a disappointment. In the enchanting opening sequence, he meets Ellie as boy and girl. They're both fans of Charles Muntz, the famous explorer who disappeared into the South American veldt. They vow to follow in his footsteps, and build their house at the foot of Paradise Falls, a primordial enclave.
But life has its curveballs to throw, and after they are grown and married, Ellie and Carl keep getting distracted, and quotidian disasters like blown tires and fallen trees deplete their adventure fund. Carl, old and tired, finally lays Ellie to rest, crossing his heart to keep his promise and travel to Paradise Falls, alone.
Or at least so he thought. It turns out that Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young Wilderness Explorer looking for his final merit badge, has tagged along, and gets caught up in the adventure. Russell has faced his own setbacks, such as a mostly absent father, but he's too full of boyish exuberance to be weighed down by it. They're kindred souls, 70 years apart.
Now, you can't really tie a million balloons to the base of a fireplace and float a house away, much less navigate it with clotheslines rigged with ropes. But it's easy to swallow this bit of illogic, since the house acts as a metaphor for lost dreams.
"Up" was directed by Pete Docter, who also helmed the wonderful "Monsters, Inc.," and was co-directed by Bob Peterson, who also shared script duties with Docter. Peterson also provides the engaging vocals of Dug, a dog who's been outfitted with a high-tech collar that translates his hyper thoughts into spoken words.
Ed Asner gives a terrific vocal performance as Carl. It's not easy to make a sour-pussed elderly man with a walker into a likable character, but Asner and the filmmakers do it. Perhaps it's because we get to see the hopeful, somewhat meek Carl before he became a widower, and understand how that loss subtracts from his soul.
Children will enjoy the high-flying action and host of goofy animals, but I suspect that like "Wall·E," "Up" is a film that will reverberate more deeply with those whose faces have some lines in them. Pixar has gone beyond making entertainment, and is using animation to create serious cinematic art. High hopes, indeed.
3.5 stars out of four