We could wax lyrical about which moment from Pixar’s laundry list of emotion searing moments hit hardest, but know this: if your answer isn’t the opening fifteen minutes of Up, you are wrong.
No moment the animation giant has ever put out before or since has even come close to reducing an audience to a clutch of damp-cheeked, lip-quiverers than the near wordless montage of the entire lives of the central, adoring couple that kicks off the film. Loaded with tiny moments that make you feel you’ve known them your entire life, it’s firstly almost unbearably heartwarming as the two plot their life out while weathering everything life has to throw at them and then they get old and the inevitable happens as wannabe adventurer Ellie shuffles off to the great beyond leaving Carl to suffer old age all on his own. Its everybody’s fondest wish and greatest nightmare all rolled into one with extra little body blows slipped in there in confuse the kids and devastate the parents (we find out Ellie can’t have kids) and it’s all everyone talks about if you ever bring up the 2008 movie in conversation – but what about the rest of it? Does the rest of the movie actually live “up” to that eviserating beginning?
Grumpy widower Carl Frederickson is trying to get through the remainder of his life one day at a time after the passing of his beloved wife has left a black hole of regrets sitting in the middle of his universe. Worse yet, developers are trying to take his home and so the pensioner’s spikey demeanor only gets sharper and more difficult to penetrate – something that well meaning eight year old Wilderness Explorer (think boy scouts), Russell finds out the hard way while trying to earn his “assisting the elderly” badge.
However after his latest pushback against the workmen lands himself a one way ticket to an Assisted Living home, Carl decides to finally make good on all those promises he made to his wife when they were just starting out and takes the drastic measures of flying his house to a cliff dubbed Paradise Falls that’s located all the way in South America with the aid of thousands of multi coloured, helium balloons.
However, while airborne, Carl finds that his plan has immediately hit a snag when he finds Russell trapped on his porch as he sails majestically about the city, although returning him proves impossible once a huge storm slams into them like a mac truck but thanks to Russell’s navagation badge, Carl awakens to find that he’s not far off his goal, but the rapidly deflating balloons means he’s got limited time to reach his destination before the house finally comes thudding to the ground. However, this is where things get really strange as Carl and Russell first come into contact with a huge, gormless looking bird that the latter calls Kevin who is being stalked by a obsessed old explorer and his army of talking dogs – can Carl finally achieve his quest with all this aggressive randomness is going on, or is an actual adventure exactly what he needs to finally move on with his life?
So, we’ve established that the opening act of Up may be the most potent bit of soul flaying the studio has ever achieved (yes, even more so than Marlin’s family getting eaten/murdered and the Toy Story gang resigning to their fate in the face of a giant garbage inferno), but moving on from that emotional rocking moment, does the remaining 80 minutes actually live up to that legendary opening? Thankfully, yes, but it only does so by taking that moment and using it to spring board into a rousing adventure movie that may be the most casually bizarre and utter whimsical Pixar has ever been with everything that happens after the breathtaking sight of a balloon powered house feeling like they’ve been cobbled together from concept art from other, scrapped movies. While Carl continues to obsess over his house and his promice to Ellie, a whirlwind of other events encircles him much to his irritation but the lynchpin to everything turns out to be the blank-eyed Kevin, a geeky, brightly coloured bird that acts as if the Road Runner had blown out its mind doing LSD in the 70’s and never truly got back on an even keel. While she simply wants to get back to her equally unfocused chicks, she’s being persued by the villain of the piece, a failed adventurer named Charles Muntz who not only was Carl and Ellie’s hero as children, but who has gone completely insane as he tries to nab Kevin in order to re-establish his good name despite the rest of the world utterly forgetting that he even existed. Utterly paranoid, Muntz has not only been killing people he’s “convinced” were there to steal the bird out from under him, but he’s amassed an army of dogs who are gifted the power of speech due to the special collars their master has fashioned for them. Its here that we meet Up’s secret weapon in the form of Dug, a goofy golden retriever who you instantly fall in love with as he swipes entire scenes out from under everybody else.
Armed with an awkward syntax that renders each and every sentence a miniature example of comedy gold (“I have just met you and I love you!”) inbetween moments where obsession with hating squirrels comes to the forefront. The dogs army, who not only come with genius line readings such as, “You too shall have much rewardings from Master for the toil factor you wage!” but allow the movie to take a weird, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge-style turn (the dogs playing poker painting, in case you were wondering) when we see them either clumsily prepare dinner or fly biplanes into battle with squeaky toys acting as machine gun triggers.
Director Pete Docter keeps things moving so gently, you don’t really realise exactly how weird up is until you start thinking about it later – and I’m not even referring the talking hounds lamenting about wearing the cone of shame. Somehow those crazy bastards at Pixar have made a family film about growing old and losing everything you hold dear that somehow appeals to children (a bird choking on Carl’s walker helps I suppose) and the film is absolutely loaded with symbolism as our hero’s home that is packed with memories begins to literally get heavier the longer he refuses to embrace the new life and friends that are appearing all around him.
Ridiculously heartwarming and dizzyingly original, this is once again a perfect example of Pixar using their particular brand of wizardry to make this story of a pensioner, an Asian pre-teen (surely making it a way more passive Gran Torino), a garrulous dog and a clueless bird seem not only completely normal, but defiantly confident.
The only way, is seems, is Up.