It starts with a boy longing to fly. Decades pass; the boy’s an old man, not flying but descending in his home-based stairlift. But 10 minutes on, stairlift, house and codger soar away on a fairytale take-off, facilitated by 10,297 balloons. We counted.
An hour or so on, the action pauses over a heartbreaking scrapbook note left for our old fella by his late wife. Finely balanced ingredients are vital for any work’s piquancy – ask Ratatouille’s Remy – but it’s true what you’ve heard: the light-as-air, gentle sway of emotion in Up lifts Pixar to glorious heights.
It begins on an emotional down, the kind from which the only way to go is up or out: after a loved-up lifetime, old geezer Carl (Ed Asner) loses his wife, Ellie. He’s about to lose the home they shared too, but has tethered said domicile to balloons, ready to visit the dream location which life prevented the pair from reaching – out near South America’s (fictional) Paradise Falls.
Eager Wilderness Explorer Russell ( Jordan Nagai) has gatecrashed the trip and an exiled adventurer has reached Paradise before them, bringing Carl new adventures when he least expects it – but old home ties don’t loosen easily.
The heart of the film, of course, is in that opening 11 minutes 30 seconds. The Greatest Moment In The History Of Animation? Damn straight. As we track Carl and Ellie from youthful larks to young love, adulthood, marriage, tragedy, aged companionship and heart-wrenching separation by death, all without words, we’re reminded that Pixar’s newschool technical know-how is always anchored in old-school warmth, character and depth. Carl’s South American escapade can’t match up but, like Carl, we never forget Ellie during his tussles with talking dogs and explorers “gone native”.
Core narrative notions of holding on and letting go cleave to the Carl’n’Ellie story; whimsical visions are secured by that emotional ballast. That push-pull of nostalgia/looking to the future is exquisitely mirrored in Up’s aesthetic, where razzle-dazzle and detail merge. The proof’s clear as a good day on Blu-ray. No 3D? No problem: the colour-muting that’s afflicted recent 3D films on DVD (Coraline, for one) just wouldn’t do here. Instead, the Bertie Bassett balloons, rhapsody-in- Blu skies and multi-hued tropical birds all blossom for your eyes.
Dig into the depths, too: the grain of Carl’s jacket and tie, the stubble he slowly sprouts and the lustre of dog fur all impress. Watching in 2D doesn’t even ground the final fight’s vertigo, smooth motion compensating for missing dimensions. Sound pulls its weight too, especially in Michael Giacchino’s lovely, lilting score.
Extras bear up well. The uniqueto- Blu ‘Cine-explore’ option marries commentary to PiP, pairing co-directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson’s amiable passion with storyboards, photos, newsreels, drawings, alternate images… for dynamism, this option leaves standard commentaries for dust. Insights proliferate, elucidating everything from Ellie’s teeth to the colour-coding that proves Up’s palette isn’t mere gloss – magenta shades vanish as Ellie dies because “the colour and saturation in his [Carl’s] life is gone”.
And yes, OK, it’s the commentary that reveals the number of balloons used, although figure and size fluctuate. Also on disc one are two lovely shorts, providing that Pixar-at-thepics experience: the meteorological fancy of Partly Cloudy joins Dug’s Special Mission, a prequel to the mutt’s on-film arrival.
Equally fine is ‘Adventure Is Out There’, a 22-minute account of team Pixar’s trip to Venezuela’s tepui mountains, a region requiring an ascent like “six hours of StairMaster” and with its own weather system – as the crew discover when stranded by rainfall. Proper commitment? There it is.
The second disc of extras from the four-disc set wasn’t available but looks well-stocked: character studies, dog and bird designs, house construction and the score receive assessment, accompanied by the original story behind Carl and Ellie’s time together and a Global Guardian Badge Game for the nippers. But don’t get too excited over the four-discer – platters three and four offer a standard DVD and a digital copy of the film respectively.
Still, not much else to niggle about on a thorough package for a thoroughly engaging film. Sure, the latter half’s dogfights and dirigible-set dust-ups substitute the lyricism of the intro for flighty adventure, but they don’t skip on wit and wonder. Mostly, Docter and Peterson tease tender balance from a tale of youth and age, sadness and joy, nostalgia and optimism, ideal and reality.
Is the only way down from here for Pixar? With due equilibrium, try an alternative view: after Up, the sky’s their limit.
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