I am not a big fan of WALL*E, in fact I find it a bit depressing and keep thinking of how much they should have paid the producers of Short Circuit for ripping off their character design, and the Hello, Dolly! stuff just rakes my nerves. I think it was overthought, ponderous, boring and cold (though I should admit my little niece and nephew are enthralled by it--over and over again). I couldn't stomach even the idea of Ratatouille, and also didn't see Cars. And from the previews of Up, I fully expected to be pretty disappointed by it, too.
Surprisingly, it turned out to be an effective, touching, funny, entertaining film with no major flaws to point to, as well as being fun to see in 3-D. It's not the greatest animated film of all time, but it's definitely a cut above, say, Monsters Vs. Aliens or the aforementioned Oscar-winning?! robot movie. (Sorry.)
Up tells the story of Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner, the perfect choice), a retiree with childhood dreams of adventure he shared but never quite realized with his wife, Ellie, inspired by their mutual admiration of explorer and dirigible enthusiast Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer). It's Ellie's dream to live at the top of Paradise Falls, a South American landmark set in a landscape cut off from the rest of the world, and made famous by Muntz's explorations. Though the dream is not realized, Fredricksen and his wife do get to live a long, happy life together doing work they enjoy, surrounded by knick-knacks and artifacts of far-flung adventures which fascinated them as children. Fredricksen even plans a South American trip for them, but that is not to be.
I should specifically compliment the nearly dialogue-free opening montage of the film, which tells the story of Carl and Ellie's friendship, romance, courtship and life together. It's really quite remarkable, and it sets a deeply kind-hearted tone for the entire film. The forties segment kept reminding me of A Christmas Story.
Time ticks by pretty slowly for Carl after Ellie's passing, and the city begins to encroach on the remnants of his life with her. A developer building a high-rise leaves his house an island in the midst of city construction, which he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge or give in to.
But when fate intervenes, and Carl finds himself forced to change or adapt, he opts instead to tether his home to thousands of helium balloons, and attempt to ride it to adventure at Paradise Falls, like his childhood hero Muntz, like he and Ellie had always planned. This sounds like the hard part, but the film is smarter than that, and provides some more interesting complications for Carl.
The first is a stowaway, Russell, a Wilderness Explorer hanging around Carl's house in hopes of earning his "Assisting the Elderly" award so he can be named a Senior Explorer. Carl first gets rid of him by sending him on a classic "snipe hunt," but it backfires in a big way once they are aloft--and yet again later--and Carl is stuck with and responsible for the little chatterbox.
The next complication comes when Carl and Russell land in South America and encounter what remains of explorer Muntz's old expedition to prove the existence of "the monster of Paradise Falls," but I'll stop there and let you find out for yourself. The trailers probably already gave too much away, but I'll be more reticent. It's no secret to say there are talking dogs, but this is handled a hundred times more cleverly than the clumsily out-of-context previews would suggest.
Imaginative, good-looking, good-natured, funny, and well and efficiently told, Up is a satisfying ride worth taking for kids and adults--maybe not a home run, but at least a solid triple, and that ain't bad.
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Roger Ebert Review
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