Up, the tenth feature film from Pixar Animation Studios, is a swashbuckling, continent-hopping adventure and an under-stated, nuanced psychodrama. It's an outlandish, wildly creative fantasy and an almost devastatingly poignant piece of realism. It's laugh-out-loud funny and try-to-hide-your-sobs moving. Like the balloons that propel its plot, Up floats seemingly effortlessly into whatever cinematic territory it pleases, gently tugging its audience along for a delightful, perspective-changing ride.
The film centers on the oddest of couples. Carl Fredricksen (voiced with gruff perfection by Ed Asner) is a 78-year-old retired balloon salesman mourning the recent loss of his wife, Ellie. Grief, age, and unfulfilled dreams have made him more than a little grumpy, and the fact that urban developers are tearing down his neighborhood (and itching to raze his beloved home) is not helping matters.
Russell (Jordan Nagai) is a portly, bespectacled 8-year-old who lives to acquire Wilderness Explorer badges but has never actually been in the wild. If he can only earn his "assist the elderly" badge, he will progress from Junior to Senior Explorer. He knocks on Carl's front door in hopes of helping him cross the street (or yard, or … anything), but Carl is in no mood to be assisted and sends the boy away badge-less.
When court officials rule Carl must move to a retirement home, he makes a bold decision. In honor of a lifelong dream he and Ellie shared to travel to a South American landmark, he ties thousands of helium balloons to his house and lifts off on a journey to "Paradise Falls." It's not until he is irrevocably on his way that he discovers young Russell on his front porch and realizes he has an unwanted travel partner.
Carl and Russell land near Paradise Falls and make a series of exciting discoveries. They are greeted by dogs who wear high tech collars that translate their thoughts into language, and the audience is treated throughout the movie to the hysterical interior life of canines. ("I have just met you, but I love you.") They also discover a huge, multi-colored, extremely rare bird. She is awkward and delightfully expressive; Russell names her "Kevin."
Eventually, Carl and Russell encounter Carl's boyhood hero, Charles Muntz (voiced with sinister aplomb by Christopher Plummer), a now disgraced explorer (even older than Carl) who is living in the region and villainously obsessed with capturing the bird. Various forms of conflict ensue, including one terrific sequence in which Carl and Charles do battle senior-style, using canes and dentures as weapons.
Along the way, Carl and Russell also make some interior (but no less monumental) discoveries. Despite their seventy-year age difference, they have much more in common than they first realize. Both of them have unfulfilled dreams of adventure, both of them are lonely, and both of them need each other.
Director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and screenplay writer and co-director Bob Peterson (Finding Nemo) manage to mine great depths of emotion from the lives and needs of their two heroes without falling into maudlin or saccharine territory. A five-minute, wordless montage near the beginning of the film (reminiscent of the head-turning extended dialogue-free portion of Pixar's previous film, Wall-E) tells the story of Carl and Ellie's life together simply and exquisitely. It's a jaw-dropping piece of filmmaking, and Up only gets deeper, funnier, more exciting and more moving from there.