Film review – Up (2009)

Russell and Carl
Russell and Carl

It almost doesn’t seem fair. How on earth can other animation studios possibly compete with Pixar? After making so many computer animated classics from Toy Story onwards, Pixar then came out with WALL·E, which is not only one of the greatest animated films ever made but set a new standard for animation, intelligent storytelling in a family film, and getting the perfect blend of pathos and humour. So what does Pixar do next? They do it all again and produce Up, one of the most unlikely films of the year. The hero in Up is Carl Fredricksen (voiced by veteran television and film actor Edward Asner), an elderly widower. Rather than be forcibly removed from his home, Carl ties thousands of helium filled balloons to his house and flies it away to fulfil his lifelong dream of living in a remote part of South America known as Paradise Falls. Along the way Carl acquires the companionship of an over enthusiastic 8-year-old boy named Russell (new comer Jordan Nagai), a talking dog named Dug (voiced by Pixar regular Bob Peterson) and a rare bird that Russell names Kevin.

Directed by Pete Docter (who previously directed Monsters, Inc.) Up simply gets every element right. Paradise Falls is rendered beautifully and much of the scenery in the film has the same bizarre terrain of some of the weirder Warner Bros cartoons. The animation is not realistic but this actually allows it to be incredibly expressive. Up is a superbly plotted film with all aspects of the story having an overall purpose, which is often rare in other animated films that tend to simply rely on one event flowing into the other with little overall cohesion. Likewise, there are no throw away jokes in Up and all the humour is timed and designed to facilitate the film as a whole.

u340_1acs.sel8.cmyk.70.jpg_rgb_scaledThe characterisation in Up is also extremely impressive and we get considerable insight into both Carl and Russell. Carl is a grumpy old man but rather than being reduced to a stereotype, we get to learn and understand how he has arrived at the point of life that he is at and we can therefore empathise with him. If nothing else Up wonderfully challenges us to re-evaluate our attitudes towards older people by putting what we perceive to be their grumpiness into perspective.

Up is a glorious film about love, friendship and the spirit of adventure. It is about pursuing your dreams no matter what stage of life you are at. The action is thrilling, inventive and highly unusual while the dynamics between the characters are frequently hilarious and also incredibly poignant. The range of emotions that this beautiful, funny and surreal film will take you through is astonishing. Up is yet another triumph from the incredible Pixar studios.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. I like the first 20 minutes of recent Pixar films, such as Wall-E and Up. The best bits are at the start but then just descend into mediocrity. The opening sequence of Up sort of captures the nostalgia of the scene in Ratatouille when the food critic is transformed through memory to his childhood (in this film, the most powerful moment, which appeared at the end).

    Once we’re in the present, the writing is all cliche, stereotype, predictable. I found it very disappointing.

  2. It sounds like these are simply films that are not your cup of tea. I am able to surrender myself to their charms completely so I’m sticking to my guns in my praise for them.

    Perhaps there is a degree of predictability in Up but for a film with such broad appeal that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. However, as for calling the writing cliched and stereotypical – you’ve completely lost me as I don’t even understand how such criticism could apply to this film.

  3. I loved the early Pixar films. Maybe I’m tiring of their format, or maybe they’re getting tired and lazy in their story-telling. If all of Wall-E could have been like the first 30 minutes (without dialogue), it would have been magic for me. If all of Up could have been like the first 15 minutes, it would have been most enjoyable. I see a lot of these films, because I have an 8yo boy.

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