When I first saw trailers of Up in the theaters, I knew right away that Pixar would have a hit. What I didn’t realize is that the film would be more of a tear-jerker than a comedy fest; Up seemed much more in-tune to the heartstrings than the funny bone, drawing more subtle humor than outright laughs in a story that deals with some of life’s more heart-wrenching situations.
Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is an elderly man whose life had been filled with dreams of adventure alongside his childhood sweetheart Ellie. When Ellie passes away and their biggest dream – living atop Paradise Falls – is never realized, Carl is left clinging to the house he shared with Ellie as it quickly becomes surrounded by large urban developments.
Carl soon feels like everybody is pestering him, including a young Wilderness Scout named Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai ) who is seeking his “Assisting the Elderly” merit badge. When Carl is faced with a court order to leave his home for a retirement community, he decides to fill thousands of balloons with helium and escape to Paradise Falls — taking his house, and incidentally Russell, with him.
Carl and Russell soon embark on an exciting, and sometimes scary, adventure as they encounter a talking dog named Dug, a rare bird they dub “Kevin,” and the once-great explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), who is still searching for the species that single-handedly ruined his career.
Prior to seeing the film, it had not crossed my mind that the back story would be the real gem of the movie, despite somewhat obvious signs: an older, grumpy man as the protagonist (he has a whole life story to tell!) and an unlikely sidekick in an awkward, young boy seeking out his final merit badge (where are his parents?). The two seemed to be an odd pairing at first, but they would later complement one another as their journey took them from Carl’s over-developed neighborhood to the vast jungles of South America. “It’s just like America,” chirps Russell, “Only south!”
It’s no secret that Pixar is an industry leader in animation, and their large team (as honored in the lengthy credits) solidified its position as a leader not only with this feature, but also with the customary short film shown before the feature. “Partly Cloudy,” an amusing short portraying the weary relationship between a storm cloud that creates dangerous packages and his dedicated delivery stork, is heartwarming and funny — but it also displays the incredible talent of Pixar’s animators, giving clouds more dimension (literally and figuratively) than ever before.