A BUG'S LIFE (1998) a couple of months ago, enjoying it quite a bit, I decided it was finally time to cross UP off my viewing list.
Although I'm a big Disney and Pixar fan, I have to offer a contrarian view and say that this is one Pixar film I just didn't like very much. In fact, it ranks with WALL-E (2008) as the only Pixar films I have no particular interest in watching again. Sure, it's visually striking and has nuggets of brilliance scattered throughout, but this is an unrelentingly dark movie. The evil and the tears far outweigh the laughs and inspiration.
As many viewers are already aware, UP is the story of Carl Fredricksen (Edward Asner), a shy balloon vendor at a zoo who has always dreamed of exploring. Carl is understandably depressed and lonely after the death of his wife Ellie, especially as skyscrapers are surrounding his charming little house.
When it looks as though Carl may have to leave his home due to circumstances beyond his control, Carl and the house suddenly float away into the sky, thanks to thousands of balloons. Carl has an unexpected guest on board, a little Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Kevin Nagai).
I was surprised that the film didn't have more humor; in fact, although it has funny moments, overall it was pretty grim. The film also suffers from jarring changes in tone. The first section of the film is completely grounded in reality, as viewers are told Carl's life story. Next thing we know, balloons are inexplicably able to lift his house from its moorings so it can float away to South America. Okay, it's a fantasy, we'll go with that. But talking dogs? Okay.
Then suddenly the viewer is in a horror movie, with explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) revealed as a wacko murderer who thinks nothing of sending little boys careening to possible death. That was just a bridge too far for this viewer.
One of the film's main themes is rejection, a nice cheerful topic (grin). Carl feels rejected by a world which is anxious for him to move on, with careless construction workers even running over his beloved mailbox. Russell has been rejected and neglected by his father. Dug (Bob Peterson), the dog, is rejected by other dogs. Muntz was rejected by those who didn't believe in him.
Sure, there are positive themes too. Carl learns that friendships and helping others are what's important in life, and he's so re-energized by his new friends that he even discards his cane. Carl, Russell, Dug, and Kevin, a bird, all find their lives enriched by their friendships in various ways. But still. There's just one trauma after another, and I didn't particularly enjoy watching characters walking through a jungle dragging a house along. (And I wondered if Kevin's parents were so neglectful they weren't even worried about his disappearance...) I didn't feel "up" watching UP, I felt "uh."
And I haven't even mentioned the tear-jerking first reel! Yes, it was beautifully made, but hearing that it made everyone cry right as the movie was starting was one of the reasons I resisted the movie for so long. Something about the sequence rubbed me the wrong way; it felt manipulative. By way of contrast, I felt much different about the tearful moments at the end of TOY STORY 3 (2010), which were really earned by viewers' deep attachment to the characters spread over three films, combined with reflections on issues such as saying goodbye to childhood.
What I liked about the film: the "Mary Blair" look of the house by the falls...the adorable way Dug talks, just the way we might imagine a dog is thinking ("You are my master! I love you!")...the dogs' fascination with balls and squirrels, again very true to life...Kevin's cute bird babies...the warm final scene.
UP was directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. It runs 96 minutes. UP is rated PG for action scenes which include peril.
Michael Giacchino won the Oscar for Best Score. UP also won Best Animated Feature Film. It was nominated for Best Picture.
UP has been released on DVD in multiple editions, including a single-disc release and a two-disc deluxe edition.