Posted on November 10, 2009 at 8:00 am

Pixar movies are beautiful to look at, but what takes your breath away is the story. They don’t rely on fairy tales or best-selling books with pre-sold stories and characters we are already attached to. And, as if challenging themselves to make it even harder, they take on increasingly unlikely protagonists — a gourmet rat, an almost-wordless robot, and now a cranky old man, and somehow they make us fall in love with them.

In some ways, this is the oldest and most enduring of tales, the story of a journey. And this is one that started a long time ago. A brief prologue introduces us to Carl and Ellie, a boy and girl who dream of adventure. They pledge to follow their hero, explorer Charles Muntz, to see Paradise Falls in South America.

Then they grow up and get married and life intervenes. He sells balloons and she works with birds. They save for their trip but keep having to use the money for un-adventuresome expenses like repairing the roof. Then Ellie dies, and Carl (voice of Ed Asner) is left alone. Developers are closing in on his little house. He just can’t bear to lose anything more. And so he takes the one thing he has and the one thing he knows and ties so many balloons to his house that it lifts, yes, up into the sky, so he can follow Muntz to Paradise Falls at last.

But he does not realize he has an inadvertent stowaway. Russell (voice of Jordan Nagai), a pudgy, trusting, and irrepressibly cheerful little Wilderness Adventure scout who needs to assist an elderly person so that he can get a badge. They arrive in South America and as they pull the house, still aloft, toward Paradise Falls, they meet an exotic bird, talking dogs, and several kinds of danger, and have to rethink some of what they thought they knew and some of what they thought was most important to them.

The visuals are splendid, making subtle but powerful use of the 3D technology to make some scenes feel spacious and some claustrophobic. Carl and his world are all rectangles, Russell all curves. The Tabletop Mountains-inspired landscapes are stunning and the balloons are buoyant marvels, thousands of them, each moving separately but affecting all of the others, the shiny crayon dots of pure color amid the dusty rock and the earth tones of Carl’s wrinkles, gray hair, and old clothes. The other glowing colors on screen are the iridescent feathers of the bird, inspired by the monal pheasant.

There are a couple of logical and chronological inconsistencies that are distracting. But the dogs, with special collars that allow them to give voice to the canine purity of their feelings, are utterly charming — and there is a clever twist to keep the scariest one from being too scary. Another pleasure of the film comes from the way the precision of the graphic design is matched by some welcome and very human messiness in the story. Everything is not resolved too neatly but everything is resolved with a tenderness and spirit that is like helium for the heart.

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3D Action/Adventure Animation Comedy For the Whole Family Talking animals

28 Replies to “Up”

  1. Hi Nell,
    I am supprised that you recomended this movie for all ages I thought since it was rated PG it would be recomended for at least second grade. My question is do you think that Up is better than Wall-E after seeing Wall- E I did not think anything else could top that but I may be wrong. Thanks.

  2. Knowing that my congregation is not likely to go see this in the theater, I cannot wait for the DVD, so I can show it for our Wednesday Matinees. I think they will see a reflection of our congregation in the film. We have some kids and a lot of elders and sometimes we go through some of this – without the balloons, the trip to Africa, or the big bird.
    I am looking forward to seeing it on the big screen with big sound and bid effects. I think it is a big deal.

  3. Michael, the system here does not let me recommend a film for 7-adult, which is why I said it was for all ages. But I hope that what I wrote about the material in the film will let parents know that it is not for the youngest kids.
    I don’t think it is as good as “Wall-E,” which is one of the all-time greats, but it is a really good film. If you see it, let me know what you think.

  4. I think it will make a great Wednesday matinee — but it is really worth it to see it in 3D, jestrfyl. I’ve seen it both ways now and the 3D really does add, well, another dimension.

  5. Hello!
    I love your site and respect your work as it is important to me to keep my childrens’ minds healthy, but I don’t have time to see every movie before they do, so I trust your opinion for this!
    I am confused, however, with your rating for Up! I was delighted to see the movie listed for All Ages, yet, at the end of the review you say parents should be cautious with younger kids. That along with the PG rating indicates to me it is not for all ages. So, I am confused.
    This is important as I use you for a tool in our house to say to my kids, “Sorry, you’ll have to be xxx old before you can see this movie” Look here….” But with this one you noted all ages, which seems inconsistant with your cautious comment and the PG rating.
    Please help me out here! 🙂
    Thank you for your time and help!

  6. Thanks, Robin! I can see that I have been too confusing and have adjusted the age recommendation. The system here is very awkward and does not let me make recommendations like “7-adult.” I hope we will be able to fix that some day. I would say that this film would be appropriate for most school-age children. If you see this film, let me know what your family thinks!

  7. Just an FYI: this shows up on your site as being recommended for ages Kindergarten thru 3rd grade, which doesn’t seem to be what you intended. 🙂
    Thank you, as always, for insightful reviews we can trust.

  8. Thanks, Monkie — as noted in my other comments, the system here is very awkward and inflexible in age recommendations for complicated technical reasons we are having a hard time fixing. I initially had this as “all ages” and that was confusing. I am recommending it for ages 7-adult and hope everyone except young children will go to see it.

  9. I LOVED this movie, Nell. I cried when Elle dies and I love how I can always go into a Pixar movie and expect the best and still be blown away.

  10. I really wanna go see this. was this your favorite pixar movie and if not which one is?

  11. Thanks, Nick! I love all the Pixar movies but my favorite is “Finding Nemo,” with “The Incredibles” a close second. How about you?

  12. Movie Mom, I didn’t see it posted on you site and just wanted to know if you had seen Taken or not. I just like to know what you think of certain movies. By the way, I saw it and loved it; I strongly recommend(:
    P.S. I’m glad to see that you posted an excellent grade for ‘Up’, I thought it looked awesome.

  13. Thanks for the very thorough review. I definitely am taking my little one to see it.

  14. ya i’d hav to agree with you on that one, finding nemo was their best definately and i’m looking forward to seeing toy story 3 next year!

  15. I thought Pixar hit a homerun with this movie, there were parts where tears were streaming down my face because I was laughing so hard. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats…haha!
    Thank you for a solid review! Now, to see it in 3D!

  16. Hi Nell,
    I saw “Up” in 3D yesterday and LOVED it. As outlandish as some of the plot is (and this is a lot of its charm, too– “outlandish” in this instance means “brilliantly imaginative”), the heart of the movie is… the human heart, with its dreams, its desires, its ability to guide us to do what is right and to care for one another. I feel a bit ridiculous heaping such praise on a cartoon! And I was musing today, wondering how I could be dissolved into tears at the introductory story of Carl and Ellie. I wasn’t just crying at a movie, I was crying over characters in a CARTOON! But it was such a tender tale…
    And then on to (an unforgiveably bad pun, sorry) other tails– THE DOGS!!! I won’t give it away for those who haven’t seen it but I was laughing uncontrollably at the alpha dog.
    As you point out, this film did earn its “PG” rating and could be scary for young children. (That being said, I didn’t hear any sounds of stress from the kids in the audience of the show I attended. The family sitting right behind me had both the mom and the dad there with their son and daughter and the only comment I heard was from the little girl: she asked her Dad if Carl was sad, and why, as Carl returned home following Ellie’s death.)
    One thing scared me– I thought Russell fell off the rope at the start! I couldn’t quite figure out what happened there. Guess I should go see it again before it leaves the 3D theater.

  17. PS I bet you are right about the clever twist with the alpha dog– I just thought it was a result of brilliant comedic inspiration but it also did turn down the initial scariness from about an 8 to a -3. The concern about the scariness might well have led the writers to that inspiration.

  18. My 6yo and 12 yo children saw this movie with my cousin one afternoon while I had to work. I had heard great things about it, so I wasn’t concerned in any way about them seeing it. That night at bedtime, however, my 6yo was sobbing about how saddened she was by the movie. Ellie’s death really bothered her. She said the movie was better by the end, but still sad. I quickly realized she was relating it to the death of her grandmother a few months ago. When I asked my 12yo about it, he thought it was very sad, too. It sounds like a lovely film, but I just want to warn other parents if their child is particularly sensitive or perhaps if they’ve suffered a recent loss, this movie may trigger a stronger emotional response than expected.

  19. Thank you very much for sharing your children’s reaction. Every child is different and this is why I try to let parents know of any material their children might find inappropriate or disturbing. Your comment will be of great help to parents trying to decide if this movie is right for their family.

  20. Movie Mom, my dad and i just went to see Up for Father’s Day. I’m fourteen, yet I still found myself laughing at the alpha dog and crying when Ellie died. We both loved it; my dad said it was the best fathers’ day present he’d ever had:) I love all the Pixar movies, this is by far the most beautiful visually. (and the most original for sure) I still can’t decide whether this one is going to take 1st on my list, (currently taken by monsters, inc.) I’m still deciding. I’m definitely going to buy this one, glad to see you liked it as much as me(: Thanks for the reviews,

  21. What a wonderful comment, Allyson! I am thrilled that you and your father loved the movie and so grateful to you for sharing your reaction. Happy Father’s Day to your dad and please keep writing to let me know what you think about the movies you see.

  22. You are absolutely right about younger kids not being prepared for this. I took my girls (3 1/2 and almost 5) and we had to leave about 20 minutes before the film’s end. My eldest got scared during multiple scenes while my youngest was upset and crying throughout the movie (even with scenes that I didn’t find scary). If preschooler kids are sensitive, this is not the movie for them. (BTW, they did OK last summer with Kung Fu Panda, Horton Hears a Who, Wall*E)

  23. The thing about a really GOOD story is that even if it has holes large enough to fly a dirigible through, people only remember it was a really GOOD story (another example is the Wizard of OZ). The artists and animators at PIXAR are indeed some of the best in the biz. But no one comes close to the writers’ ability to tell a story that is carried by the artwork, and not the other way around.
    This movie is a sure thing for our church’s movie matinees next summer.
    I was especially struck by your comment interpreting the movement the balloons. It was indeed one of the most amazing parts of the movie. If you don’t mind, I may adapt it (with credit to you) when discussing the way a church (or any community) works together. Great commentary, like great scripting, ignites and incites all sorts of thoughts. Thank you.

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