Up is the movie in which Pixar makes it look easy. A feather-light farce with a delicious dose of the sentimental, it isn't the animation company's biggest, most complicated or even its best. It's just a film in which most every oddball element of an odd yet familiar story works.
Up, shown in 3-D in select theaters, is about an aged balloon vendor who inflates his left-over merchandise and flies his house to South America. A Wilderness Explorer (they can't call him a Cub Scout) tags along, by accident, to annoy him. Once there, they find talking dogs, a gigantic fabled bird and adventure.
And that's pretty much it.
But the grumpy old man is voiced by Ed Asner, perfect foil for a too-chatty, chubby kid (Jordan Nagai).
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"Let's play a game. It's called 'Who can be quiet the longest?'"
"My mom loves that game!"
The dogs have been given collars that allow their every whimper and bark to become spoken words.
And the magic is there, right from the start — a 1930s newsreel about a famous disgraced explorer, a newsreel seen by a couple of goofy children in adventure gear, kids obsessed with that explorer. They're a boy and a girl who find each other and are set for life. We're treated to a lovely, dialogue-free montage of the love affair that was their life together. They save for their "big adventure," but life keeps getting in the way.
Ellie is gone now. But the love affair goes on. And Carl Fredricksen (Asner) is determined to see the dream that they deferred — to Amazonia — through.
Within 10 minutes, Up, directed by Pete Docter, the guy who turned the conceit that monsters in the closet collect kids' screams into Monsters Inc., has cast its spell. After that, it's all in the execution. How would a house hanging from thousands of balloons steer? (Curtains turned into sails.) How will they avoid collisions? How will they get down? Who might they find when they get there?
The third-act action is whiz-bang stuff involving the balloon house, vintage fighter planes, a zeppelin and one very big but very subtle lesson.
Life's adventures aren't just "out there." They're here, too, wherever life is lived and love is shared. And it's not photos or mementos that matter; it's the memories of those adventures that keep us warm when we're old.
Up is preceded by an equally sweet short cartoon, Partly Cloudy. It's about the clouds that storks fly to so they can pick up babies for delivery, and one clumsy little cloud that seems to handle only the problem infants — baby alligators, electric eels, porcupines — and the hapless stork who delivers them. Pixar makes this look as effortlessly sweet and funny as everything else it does.