Kid sophisticate

A winning Pixar with real blood and no pop-culture jokes? Yep.

Jun 3, 2009 at 12:00 am

There's blood. Yup, in a Pixar film. It's quick and tasteful and not too disturbing for the wee ones, but there it is, a real head injury in a kid's flick. And then there's a wounded leg.

This may seem like small stuff when you consider that movie screens have been filled with "enhanced interrogation" flicks like Hostel or Saw XXVI. But for computer-animated, Disney-sanctioned family fare, the appearance of spilled blood is revelatory. It's also indicative of the studio's recent nudge toward depicting real-life consequences and the nuances of the human condition. Did I also mention that Up deals with mortality, parental neglect and, well, talking dogs?

The gold standard in not just computer animation but filmmaking in general, Pixar has always had a thing for the bittersweet and melancholy. Up, however, moves into deeper, richer terrain, confronting the redemptive and corrupting influences of wish-fulfillment and devotion, all while maintaining the studio's incredibly high standard for entertainment and laughs (and with nary a pop-culture joke in sight). While kids may get a tad restless during an extended early montage (don't worry, the ride quickly kicks in), adults will struggle to swallow an unexpected lump in their throat. It's a feeling that returns throughout, culminating in a final scrapbook revelation that is as heartbreaking as it is joyous.

Crotchety old Carl Fredrickson (Ed Asner) decides to live out his deceased wife's dream of discovering Paradise Falls, a lost world somewhere deep in South America. Outfitting his home with thousands upon thousands of balloons, he takes to the sky in his two-story Victorian. Unfortunately, Carl has an unwitting stowaway — Russell (Jordan Nagai), a motor-mouthed Wilderness Explorer determined to earn his "senior assistance" merit badge. Soon, the two reach their destination, where talking dogs, a disturbed adventurer (Christopher Plummer) in a dirigible and Kevin, the multicolored "snipe," become part of their unabashedly madcap, incredibly entertaining journey.

Directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson bring the same Rube Goldberg inventiveness they showed in Monsters, Inc. to Up, folding their visual and thematic ideas in on themselves in a story that's both chaotically loopy and masterfully elaborate. Pixar shows us its acute attention to detail, subtle use of mood, and modest but well-earned sentimentality. In particular, the film cannily mirrors Carl's loving devotion to his deceased wife against the perverse misuse of canine devotion by Charles Muntz, the film's villain. It's a sophistication lacking in most adult movies, never mind animated kiddie fare.

If there's a misstep in this glorious and tender-hearted adventure film, it's that the final act gets a tad too Indiana Jones-ish, with high-wire action sequences and last-minute saves (all expertly executed). It's a minor complaint in a film that trades in wonderful storytelling and immersive 3-D visuals. And watching those fragile-but-resilient balloons unfurl from Carl's chimney is worth the price of admission. 

Up suggests that life without adventure is a life not worth living. But it also makes clear that, in the end, the adventure is up to us, and how we choose to encounter the world. The talking dogs are optional.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].