What’s ‘Up’? Pixar storytelling at its best

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, May 29, 2009 5:37pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Time for my periodic assertion that if only the people at Pixar ran Hollywood, movies in general would be vastly, vastly improved.

Latest proof: “Up,” a truly wonderful new animated film. If you thought Pixar might cool off after the widely loved and critically acclaimed “Wall-E,” forget it.

“Up” takes flight from an impossible premise that makes absolutely logical sense. (“The Wizard of Oz” is impossible too, and it makes perfect sense.) An elderly man, Carl (voiced by Edward Asner), recently widowed and facing eviction, loads up thousands of helium balloons through the chimney of his house.

Loosed from its foundation, the house takes flight. Carl steers it toward South America: There’s a particular waterfall down there, site of his childhood dreams and an oft-imagined, never-fulfilled destination for traveling with his wife.

Much to Carl’s surprise, a neighborhood kid named Russell (Jordan Nagai) is along for the ride. The interplay between old grouch and young squirt ought to be formulaic, but it’s bouncy and fresh.

I could describe more of what happens in this adventure after the wayfarers get to South America, but that would spoil some splendid revelations.

Other characters join the crew, including a big bird of paradise and some talking dogs (the explanation of the dogs’ speech is almost a parody of the talking-animal traditions of Pixar’s producing partner, Disney).

Director Pete Docter and screenwriter Bob Peterson, both Pixar veterans, bring Pixar’s by-now expected emphasis on story over sizzle. The characters are visually inventive and ingratiating, and the movie’s comic timing is just about flawless.

The film doesn’t pander to kids, yet they will love it. And it takes its time. The majority of Hollywood movies are geared toward an imaginary 14-year-old juiced up on Red Bull and video games, but Pixar is serene in the knowledge that audiences will follow you if you give them something worth following.

Some theaters offer “Up” in 3D, although I saw it without 3D and thought it was great anyway. It doesn’t dazzle you as the most visually spectacular of Pixar’s output — but it would be hard to top “Wall-E” or “Finding Nemo” in that department.

At the preview screening I attended, when the final shot of “Up” came on screen, someone in the audience audibly, pleasurably sighed. Final shots are supposed to be like that. It doesn’t happen often enough, but Pixar will probably pull it off again sometime soon.

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