Up tells two stories. The first of which takes about five minutes and appears right at the start of the film. It shows us the vast majority of Carl Fredricksen’s life. He begins the film as a child, watching a fullscreen movie at the cinema. What’s showing is a documentary about an explorer and inventor, Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer). The young Carl idolizes this man, and wants to have adventures just like him.
Carl meets his future wife, Elise. She is also enamored with Charles, and the two decide that they will eventually travel to Paradise Falls, just like their hero. They live their life, and this story culminates with an elderly Carl (now voiced by Edward Asner) being left all alone in his home, which is close to being demolished. Instead of being forced into a retirement home, Carl blows up thousands of balloons, and decides to take off for one final adventure to finally view Paradise Falls. But there’s a problem: A Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) is stuck on his porch, and they are now in the air above the city, headed to South America. Instead of stopping the entire plan, Carl takes Russell with him.
It’s here when the pacing really picks up. We’ve experienced part of Carl’s life, but he’s still an immature character. He’s grumpy, (although not as grumpy as the trailers would have you believe), short-sighted and childish. Russell is also immature, but it’s because he only appears to be somewhere around 10 years of age. He’s an idealistic young child, whose life isn’t anywhere near as good as his chipper smile would let on. Or at least, that’s what I figured, thanks to a few lines of dialogue throughout. He doesn’t get much of a back-story, which means you can fill in whatever you want. And you will want to, thanks to how well this film is made.
Anyway, they eventually make it to Paradise Falls, and it’s here where things go wrong. The house doesn’t make it to the spot that Carl wants, so he and Russell have to carry it like a giant balloon through the jungle terrain. They meet other characters, like a talking dog and a giant bird, eventually getting wound up in a plot that takes them far away from their destination. I’ll say no more than that, because it’s something you need to experience for yourself.
Pixar’s films are often colorful and filled with vibrant colors that paint breathtaking scenery. That’s the case here, and once we escape the city and head to the clouds, (and later the jungle), everything looks great. The animations, as expected, are also quite good, with characters feeling lifelike, even if the elderly characters don’t often feel as old as they look.
Now, I’m not going to say that Up is realistic, because it isn’t. Assuming you got the house off the ground, the angles that are shown would have it crash and fall back down almost as soon as it lifted off. The plot is also kind of ridiculous, and so is some of the technology shown throughout. But even though it isn’t realistic, Carl didn’t seem like an old character, nor did he often move like one.
This is surprising, because the film attempts early on to make us acknowledge his age. He wakes up at 6:00 in the morning, has difficulty getting out of bed, and then has all sorts of joint problems. He has to take a lift to get down the stairs, walks everywhere with a cane, and he has a hearing aid. But after we reach South America, he doesn’t always need his cane, he gains almost superhuman strength, and becomes far more nimble than he ever should be.
Inconsistent characters are something that this film struggles with. It has characters that don’t act rationally or according to their personalities a lot of the time. While this can sometimes make Up funny, it removes some of the soul because we can’t believe that the characters we learn about would act this way. Since there is such good characterization given to us, keeping the characters consistent would have improved the film.
But you are unlikely to notice these two problems, because they’re minor when looking at the entire production. One of the most surprising things about Up is how much action and adventure our two leads get to experience, and the pivotal role that they play during these moments. There are a ton of action scenes in this film, and even though the vast majority of them would kill someone of Carl’s assumed age, we go with it because it’s so much fun to watch him involved with them.
However, the thing that surprised me the most was how dark the film gets at times. There’s death in this film, and there is also blood shown on-screen. There are also moments of real heart and moments when you will feel sorrow. It’s not just a children’s film, which is something consistent with many of Pixar’s films. Adults will have something to take from this film, regardless of their age.
Up isn’t quite a masterpiece, but it’s a very enjoyable animated film that will give something for everyone, regardless of their age. It looks beautiful, it has a ton of action, and is simply a lot of fun. It is also dark and dreary at times, but ends up contrasting them with moments of levity. Up might have been a masterpiece had it kept its characters consistent with the personalities we’re shown, but it still manages to be a very enjoyable film that I’d recommend you experience.