Andy Bockelman: 'Up' balloons Pixar's good reputation

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

"Up," 3.5 out of 4 stars; Starring: Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer; Now playing at the West Theater.

Ready for a grand-scale epic that the entire family will love? All you have to do is look "Up."

Carl Fredricksen (voice of Ed Asner) is a 70-something man whose life has been thrown into turmoil - besides the recent passing of his beloved wife, Ellie, his house is at the center of a new urban development leaving Carl constantly getting closer to being forced into a retirement home.

With nothing left for him in his old neighborhood, he realizes only one option is both realistic and acceptable: tying the thousands upon thousands of helium balloons he has collected to his house and taking to the skies.

As the plan comes to fruition, Carl sets sail for the South American utopia he has always wanted to see, but he quickly learns he's not alone on his journey.

A young scout (Jordan Nagai) has accidentally hitched a ride on his floating estate. While the odd couple adjusts to each other, a quest years in the making is awaiting below the equator.

Gruff, gravelly and disgruntled, Carl is a lovable, lonely old man made all the more likable by Asner's usual cantankerous vocal intonation. The union of age and youth is a spectacular combination alone, but the veteran actor's dialogue exchange with novice Nagai is especially well done, especially considering the grating, but well-meaning nature of the younger character, Russell the Wilderness Explorer.

Just as Carl becomes something of a hero to Russell, the elder member of the duo has his own idol - dashing jet-setter Charles Muntz, played with panache by Christopher Plummer.

Among Muntz's numerous canine associates is Dug, an easily distracted - Squirrel! - mutt equipped with a collar enabling him to speak. Providing his voice is Pixar staffer Bob Peterson, who may not be the most familiar name, but gives a doggone good performance all the same.

The writers of animation pioneer Pixar have always been able to reach a broad range of viewers with sharp slapstick, emotional undertones and universal subject matter.

Like looking through the pages of a family album, older audience members will feel resonance in the movie's powerful look at both the past as it has occurred and the dream of the road less traveled.

You don't have to be Carl's age to appreciate this, but children Russell's age might not fully grasp the significance. But, they certainly won't be bored - only once or twice does the Wilderness Explorer whine, "How much longer?" and children in the crowd will likely ask this question even less as the exciting story unfolds right on par with any of Pixar's repertoire.

The one regret with this is that the studio, arguably the best of its kind, jumps on the bandwagon for its 10th feature with 3D animation in select theaters that is neither great nor bad but superfluous and trendy.

But, even with this conformity toward the supposed "future of cartoons," as long as Pixar keeps up such fine stories complete with their trademark shorts - the accompanying featurette this time is the sweet-hearted segment "Partly Cloudy" - their work will always be welcome.

"Up" takes the Pixar name to new heights with its wonderful humor and unabashedly old-fashioned warm sentiment.

There's no doubt: The Spirit of Adventure - the name of Muntz's gigantic dirigible - is alive.

Now playing at the West Theater.

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