In terms of sophisticated storytelling and emotional complexity in animation, Pixar has set the bar perilously high; no one’s come within pixelated spitting distance of Toy Story 2’s cynical view of black-marketing generational nostalgia, or Wall-E’s graceful swan dive into utter dystopia. There’s a hint early on in Up that something equally as bitter and blissful may be in store. A wordless montage follows two youngsters—Carl and Ellie—as they become best friends, get married, dream of a South American Shangri-la and grow old together. Then Ellie dies. Given the choice between the nursing home or freedom, Carl opts for escape. And that’s when we get The Moment: A modest house, miraculously held aloft by brightly colored balloons, floats past apartment windows and glides slowly, silently, into a sea of clouds.
There’s nowhere to go but earthward after that, yet to its credit, Up keeps things buoyant even as it descends into the business of dominating the Happy Meal demographic. A Weeble-like kid has stowed away on Carl’s flying home, and the duo sets sail in search of the mythic Amazonian paradise. Adventure ensues; chase scenes and literal cliff-hangers thrill even when they’re choreographed in gratuitous 3-D (the gimmick is meant to distract filmgoers from bankrupt artistry, so what’s it doing affixed to a Pixar movie?). You could suffer through worse climaxes than an air fight between a zeppelin, canine-piloted biplanes and a three-bedroom colonial. If such first-rate entertainment simply offers a remarkably fun experience instead of a life-changing one, it’s only because we’ve come to regularly expect epiphanies from its creators. But Up more than does the Michelangelos of mainstream animation proud; it still soars miles above every multiplex offering out there.
Read an interview with Up star Ed Asner on Time Out Kids