Airman Xley—shame on you! You’re supposed to be reviewing all those quality Other Worlds Austin films like OMG, I’m a Robot?! and [Insert new review here]!
Yes, yes—I know, dear reader. I’ll get to them in time. But I also know that it’s my sworn duty to uphold all the bylaws of the Cult of the Zeppelin, specifically the one about sharing quality films that everyone should see in their lifetime.
Because we’ll soon have a completely renovated website (please pardon the construction) and presumably more readers, I thought it a fitting time to talk about the beloved 2009 Pixar animated film Up. It’s an absolutely wonderful film full of heart, emotion, and that most sacred requirement to be considered a masterpiece…
—a quality screenplay? Multi-dimensional characters? Imagination?
No, you impudent cinema neandertal! It has to have a gorram Zeppelin in it! That’s the most important requirement to be a good movie!
But what about your review of…
SILENCE! Guards—take the nonbeliever away! Make him watch Dark City until he’s worthy again to enter the Cult of the Zeppelin!
That is one fineeeee lookin’ airship you’ve got there (don’t worry, the planes are aiming at the floating house)
Ahem. Now, as I was saying, Up is a phenomenal little film because it has a Zeppelin in it in—in addition to the myriad of other amazing qualities it possesses. Directed by Pete Docter—who also directed Monster’s Inc. and wrote for Toy Story and Wall-E—Up is a film of unexpected friendships, learning to let go, and discovering all of life’s adventures.
The story begins with a newsreel highlighting the life and times of adventurer extraordinaire—Charles Muntz (Voiced by Christopher Plummer). Muntz has recently returned from the mysterious ‘Paradise Falls’ in South America with an otherworldly skeleton of a giant bird-like beast completely unknown to science. After the scientific community cries fowl (I can’t resist a good pun) and claims Muntz fabricated the find, the explorer vows to return to Paradise Falls aboard his Zeppelin—aptly named the ‘Spirit of Adventure’—to capture the beast alive!
For you younger readers out there, there was—believe it or not—a time when folks got their news by heading to the cinema and catching a short newsreel before a feature film. The modern irony of believing everything you watch in a theater aside, one particular audience member who happened to catch Muntz’s story was none other than our protagonist: Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Edward Asner).
“…full disclosure, the first ten minutes of Up are some of the saddest you’ll ever watch, so a box of tissues or two is must-have.”
The young Carl fancies himself a Muntz-like adventurer, keen on discovery and intrepid make-believe. Carl soon meets Ellie, a kindred spirit and fellow aspiring adventurer, who plays in a nearby abandoned house. What follows is quite possibly the most poignant yet sweet romance montage ever devised, culminating in Ellie passing away—Carl at her side—after a lifetime of happiness together. Sorry for the spoiler, dear reader, but it’s a necessary plot device to have Carl be a widower. Also, full disclosure, the first ten minutes of Up are some of the saddest you’ll ever watch, so a box of tissues or two is a must-have. Guys—this is kind of movie you’ll want to watch with your significant other to prove you have a sensitive side.
Anywho, several years later we meet an elderly and cantankerous Carl—a far cry from his formerly adventurous self. After the loss of Ellie, he is content with routine and solidarity though he rarely gets the peace and quiet he craves thanks to a surrounding development and its constant construction. The project managers desperately want the land beneath Carl and Ellie’s house, and—thanks to an altercation and subsequent incident between Carl and a construction worker—they nearly have it. After striking the construction worker with his walker, Carl is issued a court mandate stating he must vacate his property and move into a retirement home.
But after reminiscing about his childhood promise to Ellie to take them both to Paradise Falls, Carl hatches a plan to do right by his late wife (and to avoid the drudgery of assisted living). The night before he is to be taken away, Carl fills hundreds—if not thousands of balloons with helium thereby ripping his home off the ground and setting him on a course for adventure. Unbeknownst to Carl, however, his aerial abode has a stowaway in the form of a Junior Wilderness Explorer (a Cub Scout) named Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai). Before Carl can loose the balloons and return the boy to safety, a storm blows the house—including its helpless passangers—all the way to the aforementioned Paradise Falls.
It would be criminal of me to spoil anything beyond this point, but as you can probably infer from the accompanying images in this review (and every other bit of promotional material for this film), our heroes quickly team up with some unlikely companions. There’s Dug (voiced by Bob Peterson)—a dog who is able to talk thanks to a translation collar—and the mythical bird-like creature from the opening newsreel who happens to have a penchant for chocolate. Russel names the bird Kevin, because…he just looks like a Kevin doesn’t he?
BUT NO MORE! I refuse to spoil the other two-thirds of the film because it’s just so absolutely delightful. As with the majority of Pixar films, the story in Up is superb in the sense that it is relatable, touching, and imaginative throughout though the film is—at its heart—a character-driven narrative. The obvious comparison would be to liken the characters of Up to those created by Hayao Miyasaki and the studio Ghibli team—and indeed they are very similar in their endearingness and humanity—but Carl Fredricksen, in particular, is an important figure in Pixar’s extensive filmography and in animation as a whole.
He’s a grouch, plain and simple, and it is very rare that we treated to an elderly protagonist in an animated film. Carl is a rare spin on the classic hero archetype that furthers Pixar’s noble messages of inclusivity and friendship—not to mention the fact that he learns plenty of valuable and relatable lessons along his journey. He’s old, but the important takeaway that I’ve seen resonate with so many dears friends and family is he’s not too old to have an adventure. None of us are or will ever be (except maybe Grandma Zeppelin—that woman is the definition of horrid old woman!).
The Bottom Line:
If I were to rank Up in the list of best Pixar films, it would undoubtedly be in my top three (behind Wall-E, of course). It’s sweet, sentimental and full of guffaw-inducing moments—the latter being unequivocally thanks to Dug the talking dog. It’s also a film that everyone—regardless of age—is sure to appreciate both for the tenderness of the story and the valuable life lessons contained within.
It terms of animation and the more technical aspects of filmmaking, Up is arguably the last great film released by the studio before their most recent slump. At the risk of lessening the perfection of other Pixar masterpieces, I dare say this film is perhaps the most vibrant and colorful of them all. The color palette is gorgeous, the detail in every character and every scene is masterful, and there are more squirrels than you can shake a stick at. SQUIRREL!
At its heart, Up is a fun, simple adventure story, the likes of which we haven’t seen in (likely) decades. Watch it with the family, watch it with your dog(s); just don’t watch it with Grandma Zeppelin (because she’s a rotten funsucker who’s sure to ruin even the most phenomenal of movies).
Oh and bring tissues—lots of tissues.