At the heart of UP is a story about an old man learning to appreciate the beauty and adventure of a life full of love, no matter how mundane that life may be.  It’s a really touching and poignant story with a lot of Pixar heart, which above anything else is the defining characteristic of Pixar’s incredible body of work.  Unfortunately, UP also features an action-packed plotline with cute animals, a kid in mortal danger, and an evil bad guy, as my kids would say.  The action plotline isn’t bad, really. It’s cute and funny enough, and the kids are sure to like it.  It’s just kind of cliche and a bit distracting from the true heart of the movie.

That’s similar to how I feel about WALL-E: the love story between WALL-E and EVE is really beautifully and artfully done, and is the true heart of the film, while the action plotline with the captain vs. the auto pilot, the humans returning to Earth, and the environmentalist themes, is kind of a distraction.

These action plotlines are probably necessary, though, so I can’t really fault the filmmakers for including them. For one thing, they need to get a big audience so they can keep making these expensive animated films and action-packed fun is more likely to fill theaters than subtle arty films, no matter how well-done they are. For another thing, at least in the case of UP, the old man and his dead wife storyline, though really beautiful and touching, probably isn’t dramatic or suspenseful enough to carry a film on its own, especially a kids’ film. There was a point around the end of the first act when I started wondering to myself how they were going to make the old man’s quest to move his house to just the right spot interesting for the next hour. That’s when the cute/funny animals arrived to spice things up.

All that said, you should see UP. The first five minutes alone are worth the price of admission. We meet the old man and his wife as adventure-seeking children. They start their own little club and make big plans for an adventure to Paradise Falls in South America. Then, in a classic cinematic “show, don’t tell” sequence we follow the couple through their long, simple life filled with love and happiness, but also sorrow, disappointment, and ultimately regret as the old man loses his wife before he can give her the adventure he promised. I almost cried twice. It’s probably the best film sequence I’ve seen since the first act of WALL-E.

If you’ve seen the ads you know what happens next: the old man, lonely, embittered, and frustrated, ties thousands of helium balloons to the home that he shared with his wife for all those years, intent on making good on his promise to take her to Paradise Falls. But, of course, the sailing isn’t smooth. He finds an accidental stowaway boy scout, runs into stormy weather, and gets knocked unconscious. He wakes up somewhere over South America and descends in the vicinity of Paradise Falls. The old man then has to drag the floating house and the yappy kid to just the right spot, trying his best not to get distracted by talking dogs and the endangered female bird named Kevin that the dogs are hunting.

In the midst of all the craziness, just before the action climax, there’s a quiet moment where the old man looks at a scrapbook that his wife put together before she died. It’s another beautiful little sequence that bookends with the opening of the film and really ties up that storyline in a satisfying way.

The visuals are amazing, of course. I saw it in 3-D and really loved the look and the colors. There’s a surreal distortion of scale throughout the movie that was magnified by the 3-D effects. Unfortunately, something was screwy with the theater where I saw it and there was a muddiness to it that I didn’t experience with Coraline 3-D. I should have asked for a refund, but it was late and I didn’t want to bother.

The customary short film before the feature was a really cute story about a misfit cloud that makes babies of all species and the misfit stork that delivers them. It wasn’t as funny as Presto, but it was humorous and nice to look at.


27 thoughts on “UP

  1. I thought the action sequences actually served the storyline about the couple, rather than distracting from it. That’s the mark of a great script: it’s not a bunch of action grafted onto a cheesy tearjerker, it’s a unified whole, where the action actually takes the characters somewhere that informs the quieter parts of the story. Up did that very well.

  2. Rotten Tomatoes has it at an unheard-of 98%+, with glowing descriptors like “marvelous” “enchanting” “superb”…

    I’ve been waiting for the KB review. 🙂

  3. I think the 3d glasses ruined it for me. They kept distracting me from the story. I should not have seen it in 3d.

    My daughter loved it, but was scared near the end. Keep that in mind if you take small children. There are a couple of scenes toward the end that are pretty scary.

    I need to resee this movie in 2d. I can’t tell you how much I did not feel a part of the story as I normally feel with Pixar movies and I think it was the 3d. I have not seen a 3d movie since going to Great America in like 1989.

  4. MCQ,
    Fair enough. It didn’t really feel like such a unified whole to me like, say, The Incredibles where the domestic family themes are brought out both through the action scenes and the scenes at home.

    Over the next dozen or so times I watch UP (I will definitely own it and rewatch it a lot), I may come to see the connections that you do.

  5. Dan, how old is your daughter? My son saw one commercial for it and has been talking about the movie for week, I’m just wondering if it’s good for a three-year-old.

  6. There will be some parts that a 3 yr old will not understand, and some parts that will be scary, but that’s no different from Snow White.

  7. jjohnsen,

    My daughter is 3. The scene I’m talking about truly is a scary scene for children; it takes place in a dark, cloudy environment with a man shooting a gun at others. It’s not Dora the Explorer.


    Speaking of Snow White, I tried to watch that with my daughter and let me tell you the Queen was scary! We were unable to get past 15 minutes or so.

  8. Tracy,

    Dude, no way. were you a member of the church at the time? Where did you go? I started high school at Santa Clara High in my freshman year because of where we lived, and then we moved closer to Lawrence Expressway, really close to Wilcox, so I went there starting in the fall of 1990.

  9. I loved it. Saw it in 2D because Ebert said it was better in 2D.

    My kids, 7, 6, and 3, liked it, but probably didn’t love it as much as some other disney/pixar films like Cars, Incredibles, Nemo, etc. The “heart” of this movie is something only an adult can really appreciate, in my opinion. Small children cannot be expected to understand the complexities of marital love, the aging process, loneliness, etc.

  10. True Matt, and thank goodness someone cares enough to speak to the adults in these movies. They certainly don’t have to. I would say that the best animated movies always have something for the adults, this one just has a bit more.

  11. I really love Pixar films. (I haven’t seen Up yet) However their last few haven’t quite had the “catch” for small kids that the Dreamwork films have had. The closest is Wall-E but in a lot of ways that is also an adult film. Contrast this with Cars, still the favorite of many kids, which seems to connect with them more than adults.

  12. Dan, I wasn’t a member of the church at the time, but I was friends with the Mouritsens, the Matises, the Jespersons, the Grimmetts… I grew up over by Wolfe and Fremont in Sunnyvale. But I graduated a few years before you, so we probably wouldn’t have met.

    I did do a ton of artwork for Wilcox…

  13. I saw UP yesterday. My 7-y.o. really enjoyed it, but I think my younger kids would never have lasted. Good thing I left them at home.

    I thought it was enjoyable- the story was sweet and poignant. I would not rate it above The Incredibles or WallE, regarding Story. As far as animation? Holy cow, they are good.

  14. Tracy,

    I don’t know the Matises, but I graduated with Lara Mouritsen. Matt Jesperson was a good friend (and a superb home teaching companion in the Monta Vista Singles Ward). The Grimmetts rock. Doyle was our scoutmaster and there was no better scoutmaster than he.

  15. My two year old had no issues with scary scenes, and my 5 year old loved it. As far as catch for small kids, It has a talking Dog. That’s all my kids really need. It’s not Boy-centric like Kung-fu Panda, but I have all girls. Granted the kids didn’t weep like I did…

  16. We saw it over the weekend. I admit to crying from the moment Ellie showed up until the funeral scene.

    The fact that she died was upsetting to my son and daughter, especially given that my daughter is also named Ellie.

    The storm near the start frightened all of my kids (5, 3 and 1) and the dogs were a bit scary too.

    Once the house landed where it was supposed to be my son turned to me and said (very loudly), “But his wife is still dead, right?” I suppose he had thought that the point of the movie was to bring her back to life.

    We saw it in 3d and the theater was so crowded that we had to sit way up front (the non-stadium seats in a stadium theater) which concerned me, but turned out to not be a problem. I thought that the use of 3d was very subtle (unlike Monsters vs Aliens) but that it was used for two or three pretty good visual jokes that wouldn’t have worked in 2d.

    One thing that really stood out visually to me was the depth of the textures. Cloth had grooves in it, the threads of the badges were evident, and the fuzz on the tennis balls was just as it should have been.

    The references to earlier movies were fun. The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars were obvious ones. I’m sure there are many that I missed.

    Once again, Pixar has taken a simple fish(es) out of water story and made a masterpiece.

    My kids probably liked the short, Partly Cloudy, more than Up. I thought it was nice. Cute and funny. The animals were all a delight. I’d put it in the middle tier of Pixar shorts. The upper tier is occupied by Boundin and Presto.

  17. The action plotline isn’t bad, really. It’s cute and funny enough, and the kids are sure to like it. It’s just kind of cliche and a bit distracting from the true heart of the movie.

    As a criticism of Wall-E, your point that “it all descends into an action story” is valid. In relation to Up, where the stated point of the central journey is for Carl to experience the adventure he’d missed out on his whole life, I’m not sure I get why the action and adventure are a problem.

  18. Saw it today. It was a hit with the whole family. I wish I saw a 2D version though. I loathe those glasses.

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