While Palais aficionados may have questioned the choice of Disney/Pixar’s new, ultra high-tech digital 3-D fantasy to open the Cannes Film Festival, no one’s quibbling now. Without doubt, “Up” is the best movie so far this year.
Director/writer Pete Docter and co-director/writer Bob Peterson set up the backstory superbly, introducing the lifelong bond between Carl Fredericksen (voiced by Ed Asner) and his wife Ellie which began when they were children, entranced by a 1930s newsreel chronicling the exploits of eccentric explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer). Believing “adventure is out there,” it was always Carl and Ellie’s dream to visit Paradise Falls, deep in the rain forest of South America, where the chagrined Muntz retreated in his dirigible, “Spirit of Adventure,” after one of his ‘discoveries’ was declared a fraud. But fate had other plans.
At 78, Carl has become a cantankerous widower who feels he has only one way ‘out’ when he’s banished to a retirement village. A retired balloon seller, he fills thousands of balloons with helium, attaches them to his house and soars up, up and away, only to discover there’s a stowaway: pesky eight-year old Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), a Wilderness Explorer Scout determined to earn his Elderly Assistance badge.
“I’ve never been in a floating house before,” Russell marvels. Where they go, how they get there and what they discover is sheer delight.
With minimal dialogue, the inventive, action-filled narrative flows simply and seamlessly, delicately touching on bittersweet themes of love and loss, along with the idea of escape and the importance of relationships and emotional growth – with nods to “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Lost World,” “The Red Balloon,” even “Fitzcarraldo.”
The poignant, underplayed characterizations are flawless and the finely-textured, visually brilliant animation is dazzling, particularly curmudgeonly Carl’s square-jawed face, subtly reminiscent of Spencer Tracy. So, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Up” lifts off with a high-spirited, towering 10. It’s SO effective, in fact, that whether you view it in 3-D or 2-D, you and your family are in for a terrific, fun-filled ride.