Disney // 2009 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // May 26th, 2013
The greatest adventure of our lives is often the one we don't even know we're experiencing.
I don't know what's in the air or the water up in Emeryville, CA, but whatever it is inspires some of the greatest filmmaking the world has ever known. Pixar somehow taps into the universal truth of the human experience and delivers an adventure in Up so sweeping and emotionally charged that even WALL-E would shed a tear.
Meet Carl and Ellie, two kids whose imaginations and lust for life are larger than all outdoors. These two kindred spirits want nothing more than to venture forth into the deepest reaches of the unknown and make a life for themselves amongst the beauty and majesty of Mother Earth's most magnificent creation -- Paradise Falls. Of course, life often manages to get in the way of our dreams. But, as the saying goes, love conquers all and nowhere is that belief more evident than in the journey shared by Carl and Ellie. Sadly, all journeys must end, this one leaving Carl heartsick and without purpose...until the modern world begins to close in around him. What's a adventurer with nothing left to lose going to do? Why take to the sky and fulfill a promise to his true love. Only problem is, Russell, one of the neighbor kids, accidentally tags along for the ride -- and a good thing too, since these mismatched travelers are going to need each other to survive the many trials and tribulations that await.
Up is a film that hooks you emotionally and never lets go. Unlike Hollywood's hard-on for mind-blowing visual effects, Pixar leverages its technological prowess but always puts story and characters first. As both WALL-E and Toy Story 3 ran away with the hearts and minds of their audiences, young and old alike, Up does same. Director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and writer Bob Peterson (Finding Nemo) marshal their troops, guiding us on a journey to a world we didn't even know existed, and one we will want, nay need to revisit multiple times. It's a world beyond space and time, where idyllic 1940s sensibilities run head first into modern challenges, ultimately bringing out the best in us all, even when the biggest challenge turns out to be a childhood hero who's far less noble than who you imagined him to be.
Carl (voiced with tremendous nuance by Ed Asner, The Mary Tyler Moore Show) is a member of the Greatest Generation, now past his prime and usefulness to society. He's standing in the way of capitalistic "progress" and needs to be put on a shelf with the rest of the aged and infirm. Trouble is, he's not going quietly, and rightly so. Why should any of us be forced to do what the masses feel is best, when we know in our heart of hearts there's so much more of life left to explore. Thankfully, fate has paired him with Russell (perfectly captured by young Jordan Nagai), a boy much like he used to be, full of adventure and appreciation for all the world has to offer. Russell too has been touched by life's complexities, but he's not about to let that stop him from doing what's right.
Along the way, our heroes join forces with a talking dog named Dug, and an exotic version of Sesame Street's Big Bird who Russell names Kevin. The bonds they form are critical, as their journey is laden with pitfalls which can only be overcome by utilizing their combined knowledge and talents. On the surface, it sounds simple enough, but even the most basic of tales in the hands of Pixar are rich, all encompassing experiences, supercharged by another brilliant underscore from composer Michael Giacchino (Star Trek). The thematic elements will linger long after the credits, and if you don't already own it a copy of the soundtrack is needed to scratch the itch that haunts our emotional core.
Okay, there are a couple of niggling plot holes, like how Russell was able to make it up to the front porch after take-off, and just how old is Charles Muntz when we meet him, but these are easily set aside by the pitch perfect scope of the overall experience. Up really is a idyllic balance of heartfelt emotion, laugh out loud humor, and edge-of-your seat action-adventure.
For as awe-inspiring as the visuals are in 2D, the depth of splendor to be experienced in Pixar's first extra-dimensional foray is mind blowing. Like WALL-E, there are moments you will swear you are seeing a live action film, as the 3D effects lure us deeper and deeper into Up lush world. From the environmental detail of the South American jungle, to the tactile design of our heroes -- down to the fabrics of their costumes -- are astoundingly life-like. The rendering achievements they're making with each successive picture are remarkable, making me wonder just how much further they can push the envelope. Granted, the audio is not Disney's now standard 7.1 mix, but this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is no less impressive. Regardless of how intricate and complex Tom Myers' sound design becomes, nothing is ever overpowered or lost in the shuffle. Each layer is painstakingly tweaked so as to make this environment as vibrant as possible, even in a home theatre setting, which is a real accomplishment.
The one disappointment about this release is that there's no new material beyond what Disney delivered on the original 2011 Blu-ray release. Judge Clark Douglas does a marvelous job detailing all of those bonus features in his review, so I won't waste your time rehashing it. Bottom line: If you already own the prior Blu-ray and don't have (or plan to have in the near future) the latest and greatest home theatre technology, there's no need to upgrade. You already own everything you need to enjoy this film again and again and again.
While their two most recent adventures -- Cars 2 and Brave -- may not have wowed audiences the way they would have liked, the Pixar clan are still hands down the most impressive storytellers since Bill Shakespeare and the Grimm Brothers. Young or old, male or female, rich or poor, kind or cruel, anyone who takes the time to watch Up is stripped down to their innermost 6-year-old, freed from every care or concern, and emotionally unshackled to bask in one of the finest human adventure stories ever experienced. And, if you're lucky, it just might change your perspective on what's most important in life. Hell, the silent film montage of Carl and Ellie's relationship from beginning to tragic end is enough to redefine anyone's view on love. Very few filmmakers can lay claim to that achievement.
Not Guilty. "CA-CA! RAWRRR!"
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* 2D Version
* Alternate Endings
* Short Films
* Interactive Game
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site