From the press notes handed out at my screening of Up, I learned that Walt Disney believed that for every laugh there should be a tear, a sort of Newton's third law of entertainment. If he were around to see this movie, which upholds that "law" to a T, I have a feeling Mr. Disney's head would swell with pride — and perhaps take him up into the air like one of the many colorful balloons in the movie. See? Up is so fanciful and fun that it has set my own imagination in motion, which will, presumably, remain in motion . . . OK, OK, enough with Newton's laws — back to my thoughts on Pixar's latest accomplishment.
"Accomplishment" is the word to use when referring to Up, as you can pretty much go down a checklist of the many things this movie gets right. Colorful and imaginative enough to keep kids' attention? Check. Genuinely interesting enough for adults? Check. Humor, sadness, action and tenderness — all rolled up together? Check. Astounding, vibrant visuals? Check. What's not to love about Up? Honestly, not much. To find out what else I did love about it,
The story follows a little old widower named Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) who is determined to keep the house in which he lived with his beloved late wife Ellie while his neighborhood is being reconstructed on all sides of him. He attaches hundreds of balloons to his house and flies away, hoping to find his way to Paradise Falls, a remote South American locale where he and Ellie always dreamed of going and finding adventure. But while he's in the sky, Carl discovers that a persistently "helpful" young boy, Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), took off on the house along with him. Together they reach South America where they encounter some non-human friends: A dog named Dug with a collar that communicates his thoughts and a colorful, affectionate bird that Russell names Kevin. But there's a problem: Dug's owner is trying to hunt down Kevin and Russell immediately takes on the challenge of protecting the bird. So, despite Carl's desire to have a peaceful life by himself at Paradise Falls, he finds himself surrounded by — and suddenly responsible for — a trio of clumsy but well-meaning friends.
To us adults, at times the movie seems downright trippy — but that's the thing about imagination, isn't it? Strange, funny things like an elderly man dragging his house through the air above him strike us as the stuff of drug-induced dreams, but it's actually a scenario that a child might just paint in her head any day of the week. Movies like Up, when done as well as Up is done, take us right back to that childlike place of wandering thoughts and carefree creativity and it is so much fun to be there again.
And at the same time, there's an adult-like realism in this animated movie as well. There's death and great sadness and even a little blood. It's rated PG — not G — and some moments were clearly too scary for some of the more wee viewers at my screening. There are slow-moving, tender moments, too, that probably resonate more with those in the audience who have a bit more life experience. All told, I have tremendous respect for what the makers of this movie have done in creating something so whimsical, so exciting to watch, and so cute but something that also beats with a real heart, with all its vulnerability and love. As Mr. Disney prescribed, Up pulls you through practically every emotion available — but happily, it leaves you in sweet (if a little tearful) contentment.
Images courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures