Posted: 05/31/2009



by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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Up is a delightful animated film from Pixar that’s great fun for both young and old alike. Edward Asner is the voice behind Carl Frederickson, who’s lived a long life—nearly 80 years old.

Carl married the girl of his dreams, Ellie, or at least the one girl who shared his adventurous spirit. They meet by chance as Carl was hyped Up on the adventures of a veteran aviator and explorer named Charles Muntz, voiced by Christopher Plummer, and as he’s skipping home imagining how he can live out his own dreams and adventures, he stops by Ellie’s house. After that point, they are inseparable. Carl and Ellie carve out a life filled with great joy but with some unfortunate surprises. Pixar manages to cover some of the adult themes in the movie that include miscarriage, ill health and the eventual death of Ellie in such a gentle, straightforward manner that you wonder how such heavy themes can be played out so easily.

The relationship that the couple share is so touching, gentle and sweet, as you watch the two of them age throughout the decades. The years after marriage are developed in less than five minutes of screen time and with no words exchanged between the two. Instead it’s scene after scene of the couple enjoying life, camping out, Ellie choosing Carl’s ties for work, both of them growing older, etc. Pixar animation is brilliant, even to the most intricate details like the gold wedding band that Carl wears.

Before Ellie dies, however, she shares her “adventure book” with Carl, which encourages him to fulfill one of their unmet dreams—that of traveling to Paradise Falls in South America.
Carl made a living as a balloon salesman, and the beauty of this Pixar feature is that the senior citizen is the main character, with a strong side kick in the 8-year-old roly-poly Wilderness Explorer Russell, who’s a lot like Carl was as a child. Russell must earn a badge for helping a senior citizen and he’s adamant about helping the obstinate, crabby old man who reluctantly opens the door for him one day. By this time, Carl is upset with the world; builders are trying to buy him out of his house to raze it and built condos; he’s resigned himself to a lonely, widowed life without his beloved wife and Russell just won’t leave his front porch. Carl relents and sends Russell on a wild goose chase for a snipe (a rare bird). Only he underestimates Russell’s ambitious resolve. And after that point—as it was with Carl and Ellie—Carl and Russell are glued to each other for one heck of an adventurous ride.

Carl decides to embark on the odyssey to travel to Paradise Falls, in order to at least live out a dream that he had promised his dear, dear Ellie. Carl (Mr. Frederickson) and Russell travel in Carl’s house, which is being powered by thousands of brightly colored balloons.
The wondrous trip is going well, until the pair meet with bad weather, at just about a stone’s throw away from Paradise Falls. They even meet up with the explorer Muntz, who turns out to be a villain, led by a pack of mean dogs (Delroy Lindo is the voice for the Alpha Dog).
Russell turns out to be more troublesome than he’s worth at times, but in the end they both persevere to triumph over Muntz’s evildoings. But not before Carl is forced to rid himself of all the possessions in his house and change his mind about his feelings for Russell.

The trailers for Up with the colorful balloons attached to the house do well to advertise what turns out to be an even more colorful, exciting movie about a man who, though he had lived life well, discovered that there was still much life left to explore and a young boy who just desired some real purpose in life and the love of a father figure who would do most anything to ensure his safety and well-being.
Pixar has done it again by offering good family fun in a non-offensive and enlightened manner. However, Up takes the prize over WALL-E, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo and others. So grownups, grab a couple of young ones and take them to see what may be one of the best movies of the year.


Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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