Release Date: May 29
Director: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Writer: Bob Peterson
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai
Studio/Run Time: Pixar, 96 mins.
I’m trying to imagine the pitch meeting at Pixar when it was decided that the studio would spend millions of dollars developing Up: “Let’s see… We’ve already done toys, bugs, monsters, fish, superheroes, cars, rats, robots… I know, geriatrics!” The public hadn’t balked at a Wall-E, a film whose first two acts were essentially dialogue-free. How would it react to a film whose protagonist is an elderly widower with a hearing aid, dentures and back pain—who looks like and is voiced by Ed Asner?
Thank God for Pixar. When Toy Story came out, it was a technological triumph, but storytelling has really been what’s set the company apart from its rivals, and Up continues that dominance. Asner’s character, Carl Fredericksen, turns out not to be the grumpy, old man shown in previews (well, he does send a kid snipe hunting), but a kindly devoted husband adrift after the loss of his wife. His first 78 years are condensed into the film’s beautiful first 10 minutes, as we see a young boy with dreams of adventure fall in love with a fellow dreamer. Though childless, the couple live full lives until Carl is left alone. After his wife’s death, he clings on to every memory of her including a house that stands stubbornly in the way of a high-rise development. He has a single regret (an unfulfilled promise of a trip to Paradise Falls), but even less purpose, and when cornered, he does what any wistful balloon-maker would do—fly his house to South America.
The resulting Andean adventures snap him from his self-pitying funk by providing him with a goal to pursue, but it’s not his childhood dream that provides ultimate fulfillment. In a culture that devalues its elders, tucking them away in nursing homes and occupying their time with leisure pursuits, it’s refreshing to be reminded that, regardless of age, meaning can always be found in both relationships and story—that glorious struggle to overcome adversity in the pursuit of justice. That the reminder comes in the form of a cartoon would be more surprising if not for the depth of the Pixar’s previous films like The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Wall-E.
Sure, the film has its adorable characters for the kids—the dogs with innovative collars that allow their thoughts to be communicated through speech, the wilderness scout who tags along for the ride and even some cute baby birds. But it also offers kids (and grown-ups) hilarious sight gags and dialogue, which my children were quoting all the way home. But what makes Up such a satisfying film is the story of an old man deciding that he still has life left to be lived. And that life is an adventure.