When talking about the latest Pixar, it’s easy to fall into superlatives. Really, there’s only one modestly bad apple, and that’s Cars. The other film singled out as less than is A Bug’s Life, but that’s a solid film in its own right, and probably their most underrated. So is it fair to call Up a masterpiece? Yes. Yes it is. My review of Up after the jump.
Carl Frederickson (voiced by Ed Asner) has led a great life. He and his wife Ellie were together for a very long time, but there were two minor problems in their marriage. One, she couldn’t get pregnant, and two their plans to go adventuring were always cut a little short by life. After she passes away, Carl is one of the few holdouts in his neighborhood that hasn’t sold his house, and so contractors are looking for any way to get rid of him. And Carl gives them that chance when he acts inappropriately. But instead of going to an old folk’s home, Carl decides to turn his house into a dirigible. He unintentionally takes boy scout Russell (Jordan Nagai) with him on a trip to the Himalayas, so Carl can finally take Ellie on the trip she always wanted (as it were). They end up near the location, but in doing so run into a strange bird that Russell names Kevin (even though he is a she).
Carl was inspired as a boy by Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) and it turns out that Muntz and his dogs have been looking for that bird for the past seventy years or so. Carl makes friends with Dug (Bob Peterson), who doesn’t like the rest of the pack so much, and is constantly challenged by Alpha (Peterson). Muntz’s time alone has left him a bit daft, but more importantly violent, so Carl and Russell decide to protect the bird, and get Carl’s house to its final resting place.
As has been written about at great length, the film opens with a montage that shows Carl and Ellie’s life together, its pleasures and misfortunes in a silent montage of a lived life. From there the movie has you in its grasp, and if it doesn’t then there may be something wrong with you. There’s been talk that this might be a best picture nominee, and it’s fair to say it’d be deserved, this is a heartfelt and joyous work. The Pixar team is well established, and they are a well-oiled machine that pumps out a film a year, and they also do such great work that there’s no reason to question their process. But it’s also how they take chances. This is a movie that’s geared towards kids that stars an old man, and begins with watching his wife die. But Pixar has become like a secret handshake among adults, and in Los Angeles, and on my twitter feed, this summer you could see lots of people who don’t have kids lining up to watch this film. Such is the power of Pixar.
It’s strange that this is a kid’s movie, but such may be why I have only one quibble with the film. As it’s about the passage of time, and Carl is old, I don’t know why the character couldn’t pass on in the credits. It strikes me that that would be the completion of his journey, but this supposedly for children, and the darker edges have been removed for most modern children’s entertainment. And yet Up is not a kid’s film. It’s an everyone film, filled to the brim with great comedy and action. There’s a set piece where Carl and Russell have to jump from rock to rock while being chased that reminds of the great work Hayao Miyazaki did with Castle of Cagliostro. The character of Dug is comic gold, and has a number of great silly lines throughout. It may be boring to suggest this is Pixar’s latest masterpiece, but there you are.
Disney’s Blu-ray edition is a four disc set, with one a DVD version of the film, and another a digital copy. The first disc offers the feature in DTS-HD Master audio 5.1 ES. The soundtrack on this is stellar to say the least, and the picture quality of the widescreen (1.78:1) presentation is also reference quality. It’s like Blu-ray was made specifically for Pixar films. Extras on the first disc include a commentary by directors Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson in an enhanced viewing mode called “Cine-explore” that offers stills, photos, storyboards, early drawings along with the commentary, and it’s excellent. Doctor and Peterson are good guides for the movie, and understand how to deliver commentary. Also on the first disc is the short film “Partly Cloudy” (6 min.) which is a touching silent narrative about a cloud and a stork, and a new short film called “Dug’s Special Mission” (5 min.) which tells a parallel narrative about Dug on how he came to meet Carl and Russell. “Adventure is Out There” (23 min.) shows the Pixar crew venturing out to the Himalayas to get ideas for the movie, and “The Many Endings of Muntz” (5 min.) goes through all the permutations of how the villain was to leave the movie. There’s also a promo for how to use a digital copy, and bonus trailers.
Disc two is all extras, There’s documentaries “Geriatric Hero” (6 min.), Canine Comparisons (8 min.), “Russell: Wilderness Explorer” (9 min.), “Our Giant Flightless Friend, Kevin” (5 min.) “Homemakers of Pixar” (5 min.), “Balloons and Flight” (6 min.), and “Composing for Character” (8 min.). This walks you through the main characters, including Carl’s house, and Michael Giacchino’s score. “Alternate Scene: Married Life” (9 min.) shows how they worked out the opening of the film, with a different version of the opening montage, with Carl and Ellie punching each other. There’s a promo montage with Up interstitials (6 min.), and there’s a game called “Global Guardian Badge Game” where you answer trivia questions for badges, then there’s two of the film’s trailers. And that’s it. The second disc feels light, all things, but at this point there’s not much point in getting too elaborate with the behind the scenes stuff. There’s enough nuggets here to make this worthwhile.