We also see that someone who looks like a grumpy old man can be instead an interesting old man, courageous and inventive. He’s not “grumpy” on general principles, but for the very good reason that he has lost the love of his life. We see that there is such a thing as love for a lifetime, and that love between people who have grown old together is beautiful. And we see Carl register it as a real tragedy when he learns that Russell’s dad has gone on to a new wife, one who tells Russell “not to phone and bug him so much.”
Up is remarkable for other reasons: It is the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival, and the first 3-D movie from Pixar. The 3-D effects are used as artistic elements to support the story, rather than just calling attention to themselves. For example, 3-D is used to shorten the perspective and induce a confined feeling as we see Carl spending lonely days in the house after Ellie has gone. In a typically clever shot, Carl chugs slowly across the screen on his stair-glide, to the sultry strains of the “Havanaise” from Carmen.
The most eye-popping use of 3-D actually comes in the Disney and Pixar logos, before the movie itself begins. After the logos fade, we see something that looks familiar: rows of heads before us in a theater, watching a movie. That film turns out to be a 1930s-era newsreel of the dashing explorer Charles Muntz, and we step into the story as we see Carl as a child, watching along with us. Pretty nifty.
The one thing I disliked was that once the characters are all in place, the film becomes simply a series of action sequences. (I had the same criticism of Finding Nemo
.) It’s as if the plot pauses, and we just keep re-running the loop of danger, chase, battle, escape, in different settings. We don’t learn anything new about the characters, because the last chase sequence already demonstrated that they are either courageous (good guys) or nefarious (bad guys). For me, this phase of the movie just drags, though of course for many audience members the action scenes will be the best part.
The filmmakers do deserve kudos for making the extra effort of rendering such scenes true-to-life in terms of weight, texture, and impact; it isn’t simply as big and loud as possible. This goes for the whole film. You’ve probably never seen a house held up by helium balloons, but it just feels right — you will believe a house can fly. The structure creaks and leans the way you think it would, and when Carl cuts a few balloon strings to lower it a bit, they ping the way they ought to. Early on the house sails into a lightning storm, and it feels like the real thing (this might be the scariest part of the film for little ones).
I was also impressed that, having given us the house as a symbol of Carl and Ellie’s love, the filmmakers allow it to be bashed and damaged on its dangerous journey. The cost of this adventure is real, but it’s worth it — a lesson Russell, along with all the kids watching, will find useful when he himself is 78.
– Frederica Mathewes-Green writes regularly for Beliefnet.com, Christianity Today, and other publications. She is the author of Gender: Men, Women, Sex and Feminism, among other books.