Sunday, 8 November 2009


On viewing Pixar’s latest masterpiece, Up, a wondrous thought occurs: this is animation more for adults than it is for kids.

In the wider scheme of things, this may seem nothing new. After all, the Japanese have had the adult animation market cornered for years. But Pixar, in their 14 year maturation since the first Toy Story have, almost under our noses, managed to sneak in real human delicacy and pathos while maintaining that obvious kiddie friendly exterior.

That tone is set with perhaps the most exquisite and beautiful piece the studio has ever done. Aspiring boy adventurer Carl is transfixed by newsreel footage of his childhood hero, Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), one who, denounced as a fraud, vanishes to a far-away destination called Paradise Falls. On the way home Carl’s affection is caught by a young girl, Ellie, who shares his taste for derring-do.

What follows is a heart-wrenchingly poignant 5 minute montage as we Carl and Ellie marry, move into their dream house and plan their future. However, life is cruel and it cannot last…When those 5 minutes are up, there will be nary a dry eye in the house as elderly widowed Carl is left to face the future on his own. Played out in silence, except for Michael Giacchino’s moving score, this is arguably the moment where CGI animation crosses into the adult mainstream.

Truth be told, the rest of the film doesn’t pack nearly as much of an emotional punch. But then it doesn’t need to. This is a mere scene setter and an astonishingly brilliant one too, establishing such investment in a cartoon character so as to be rivalled only by other Pixar efforts. Modern day Carl (Ed Asner) is faced with a dilemma: his house is now surrounded by skyscrapers and the investors are closing in, keen for him to shove off to a retirement home. What to do when the house contains so many poignant memories?

Simply, he takes it with him. By tethering thousands of balloons to his abode, the pensioner sets off to Paradise Falls in pursuit of Muntz his idol, with an unwitting stowaway, wilderness explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) along for the ride. Pixar have always been masters at investing daft scenarios with a palpable human core and Up may be their finest attempt yet: no longer is it the tale of a floating house. It’s the wonderful story of an old man desperate not to let go, of someone guided always by the memories of his wife and kindred spirit.

Not that this message is ever laboured; Pixar have never stooped to that. Unlike Wall-E (Pixar's last movie), Up never feels like a message film bolted onto a comedy. And, unlike Wall-E, the subtlety of the prologue always informs the sillier, funnier aspects of the adventure to follow.

As such, there are fleeting references to young Russell’s broken home life; Muntz’ pack of canine cohorts don’t speak aloud but through voice collars, neatly sidestepping the issue of talking animals in what is ostensibly a more human story; and Muntz himself is less a pantomime villain than a greedy opportunist (albeit a very nasty one).

However the film is never a self-conscious poser. Warmth is always at heart, and there are screamingly funny interludes from gabbling bird Kevin and ‘talking’ dog Dug (voiced by co-writer/director Bob Peterson). Yet it’s the recognisable emotion allied with the entertainment that secures its resonance. Is a house merely a house? Do you risk letting go of your memories? Pixar’s astute underplaying of these competing elements make Up a classic for the ages.

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