Pixar's new movie is a tough sell. Why? First, it's the film the studio released after Wall*E. Second, it's a challenging story to cut a good trailer for. But here's what you need to know: It's just as good as the other Pixar movies you already love.
In recent years, the company has made a shift, telling stories that don't seem to fit into the standard Hollywood mold. At the same time, they're still simple and unique, and they've found enormous success both critically and commercially. Up is just a harder movie to encapsulate. Where Ratatouille is about a rat in the kitchen and Wall*E is about a lonely robot, Up is about an old man who flies his house to South America via helium balloons. Sure, try to sell that to the kids with the Lightning McQueen lunchboxes or the adults who found themselves weeping over Wall*E. But what Up is really about is remembering that every day of our lives is an adventure.
“We always think about accomplishment and achievement with a capital A,” director Pete Doctor, who also helmed Monsters, Inc., tells CityBeat. “But in most cases, at the end of the day, the real adventure is the relationships that we have.”
The movie stars Ed Asner as Carl Frederickson, a curmudgeonly old man who met his wife, Ellie, when they were children who shared a love of daring adventure and the most daring adventurer of all, Charles Muntz. They spent a lifetime together, but they never managed to take that spectacular expedition to Paradise Falls they always talked about. Now Ellie has died, and Carl is alone, and developers are eyeballing the house they shared for so many years. His solution is to inflate thousands of helium balloons so he can fly Ellie's house to South America. Wilderness scout Russell (Jordan Nagai), hell-bent on getting his Assisting the Elderly Badge, accidentally accompanies him. And it's at Paradise Falls where Carl meets Muntz (expertly voiced by Christopher Plummer), living a kind of Colonel Kurtz existence, complete with a dedicated group of talking dogs (including Dug, voiced by co-director Bob Peterson, who will go down as the film's most memorable character). There's action, and it's exciting and beautiful, but the real payoffs are emotional, as this crotchety old man gains perspective on a young boy who needs a father figure, and as he realizes how important his time with Ellie was.
Doctor says he and his co-director made exactly the film they wanted to make. “Bob Peterson and I sat in a room and made a list of things we wanted to do,” he says. “One of them was this grouchy old man with a lot of attitude, and another was that we kept coming to this idea of escape. A floating house just seemed poetically correct, somehow. We just allowed ourselves to run with that for a while, and out of that came the basic thread of the film, the thematic idea of redefining what adventure is.”
One other theme that runs through the film is the idea that perhaps putting our childhood heroes up onto pedestals is a bad idea, a lesson Carl learns the hard way once Charles Muntz decides Carl and Russell are standing in the way of his return to glory. Doctor himself has a little experience in that department.
“I grew up idealizing Jim Henson,” he says. “At school, I drew this caricature of him as a puppet that Kermit was puppeteering. He was speaking nearby, and, afterwards, I waited in line to shake his hand and give him this drawing. In my mind, I thought he would take it and say, ‘Why, boy, you should work for me,' or something like that. But he took it and said, ‘Oh, thanks,' and put it in his pocket and went on to the next person. It's not a poor reflection on anyone, but there was no way he could ever live up to what it could be in my mind.”