Up is among the most uneven films from Pixar’s imperial phase, but still pretty close to a masterpiece.
At its core, Up is about the struggle between personal dreams and family: When Carl is denied the latter in the iconic, tragic opening 12 minutes, he leans into the former. Only when he finds himself the caretaker of Russell, Dug, and Kevin — and face-to-face with the obsession of Charles Muntz — does his real path to honoring Ellie become clear.
This thematic conflict is rich enough to buoy the film even when it starts spinning its narrative wheels around the halfway point. Indeed, the movie’s second act features lots of walking and chasing with fairly vague motivations and connections to the story’s purpose. The jokes start to get repetitive too, as the punch line is often little more than pointing out that Carl is a crotchety old man.
Nonetheless, I’ve never connected more with Up than I do now. Like all of Pete Docter’s Pixar films, the topic of having parenthood thrust upon its hero really gives the film a new punch now that I’m a father. Even more than his lost love for Ellie, it’s his gradually growing sense of paternal love for his various proxy children that grounds the movie.
Visually, Up remains one of Pixar’s most pleasing films. I’m not wild about the character designs, but the actual character animation is great (Kevin and Dug are my favorite). The settings are a delight, too: a lush tour of tropical locales. Plus, few animated moments thrill me as mich as the sequence of the house taking off with thousands of colorful balloons.
A few parts still don’t click for me, but there’s no question Up ranks with Pixar’s best.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Exceptionally Good (7/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.