Up was something of a landmark movie for Pixar “ it marked the studio’s 10th feature film, was the first animated movie to open the Cannes film festival and was the studio’s first film to be presented in 3D (but try not to hold that against it). Directed by Pete Docter, his second time in the director’s chair, after Monsters, Inc., it was also a huge commercial success grossing over $730m worldwide. It also garnered critical acclaim, becoming only the second animated film to gain an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and taking home the prize for Best Animated Feature.
Up along with its predecessor, WALL-E, demonstrates the confidence that was clearly growing within Pixar “ justifiably given that the studio had made eight movies and not a failure amongst them. This confidence allowed for a new ambition in storytelling terms, which is what makes Up so satisfying, and led to it being such a success.
Up is one of the first Pixar films whose premise cannot be expressed as a simple ˜what would happen if?’ question “ for example ˜what would happen if toys were alive?’, ˜what would happen if the monsters in your closet were real?’ Its story is that of Carl Fredricksen, who we meet as a young, shy child at the start of the film, in thrall to the adventurers he sees on the newsreels in the cinema. He meets Ellie, a girl of his age, and finds himself in thrall to her too, with her confidence and her easy friendship. There follows an extraordinary, bravura sequence in which we see key moments in their lives, as they grow up, marry, live together, experience highs and lows, culminating in Ellie’s death. Though the whole sequence can’t last more than a few minutes and is entirely wordless, fully formed portraits of their lives are drawn, showing the small triumphs and disasters that make up two apparently unremarkable lives. It’s clear that they mean everything to each other, and Ellie’s death is devastating “ it takes a heart as icy as mine to keep the tears back.
After this race through their lives, we are left with Carl, alone in his house, with nothing to look forward to, and in his heart, the terrible suspicion that Ellie sacrificed her dreams “ of travelling to Paradise Falls in South America – to be with him. So when the retirement home comes calling, he does what anyone in his position would do. He attaches thousands of balloons to his house and flies away in search of Paradise Falls. (Apparently a technical director did the maths and worked out that in reality, he would have required 23 million balloons to make the house fly but this might not work visually). Anyway, thus begins an extraordinary adventure including a not-too-bright wilderness explorer called Russell, a giant bird called Kevin, a murderous ageing explorer and a whole lot of talking dogs.
As you can probably tell, the plot gets quite off the wall, and this really shouldn’t work at all “ the shift of tone should be jarring, the plot should be too absurd, but somehow it does work, almost perfectly. Docter has discussed how he needed Carl’s mourning character to provide the ˜emotional bedrock’ to prevent to story getting too wacky, and this is achieved, through a grouchy but very likeable guy. The comedy and an emotional depth not commonly associated with films of this nature are perfectly balanced and the story is wholly satisfying.