For me, Up is seminal because it cast some unique characters we haven’t seen before – the grieving geriatric as the hero and the young boy with some complex issues around his absent father. There are so many unsaid moments in this film, it never dips into schmaltz or cheese and is just so utterly endearing.
The film starts with Carl and Ellie meeting as children, falling in love and living a beautiful, happy life together. When Ellie passes, Carl decides to take himself, and his home, to Paradise Falls in South America in honour of Ellie. Unfortunately, a young scout named Russell comes along for the ride.
The opening sequence is the newsreel, a fantastic nostalgic homage to the old Radio news bulletins. I love that they’ve referenced the over-the-top chipper narration and Carl’s outraged reaction to the scenes is very sweet and well observed. The following scenes of him finding adventure in pavement cracks and tree stumps is magical and you’re brought straight back to your own childhood. It’s also a wonderful insight into the child Carl was, ensuring that we don’t just see him as a as a crabby old man.
Then comes the sequence that everyone knows – surely the most emotive sequence since Jessie’s song from Toy Story and Boo’s leaving in Monsters, Inc. I defy anyone to watch it and not be moved to tears. And that’s when you know you’re watching a Pixar animation. They never patronise their audience, you don’t need to be a grown up to understand the significance of Carl and Ellie’s long and loving life together; their inability to have children, their growing old together, Carls grief and how they let their dreams slips quietly by. For me, this sequence is a beautiful short film that could be watched as a stand-alone film.
It’s true to say that the rest of this film never quite sustains this level of perfection. For me, once he enters into the jungle, it’s a goofy, fun film with talking dogs. I have to admit that more than once, I’ve been more interested at looking at the backgrounds and analysing the animation rather than watching the film at these points. Saying that though, I’ve been known to say ‘Squirrel!’ more than once and have laughed out loud to it, it’s a charming goofiness.
Russell is fascinating to me because for once, Pixar really made some tough choices and decided not to resolve his absent-father issue by having the father return. Instead it chose to say, ‘yes sometimes your parents don’t care, but guess what – there are other people to fill those roles.’ I thought that was a really brave decision and all the more touching that Russell and Carl fill those missing familial roles for eachother. I thought it really spoke to lonely people and children everywhere and it really reminded me of Sesame Street and the way they always confronted issues that young children were facing. It also educates those with Walton-esque lifestyles that there are more than one type of family and they are all equally as important.
Watching it again, the animation of the people still has that doll-like quality that I find hard to ignore at times. However, there are more than enough striking and detailed moments that make you realise how well observed this film is; the house with its artistic murals, the scene where the light through the balloons colour a young girls room as it floats past and the magical aura of Paradise Falls. There’s a lot of love in the craftsmanship of the film.
The extras are all interesting, but the documentary of the animators’ trip to the real Paradise Falls is fascinating. Essentially a nature documentary, it educated me on a part of the world that I had never heard about, let alone seen and I remember being thrilled at the idea that this place really existed. Micro climates, plants never before seen and an eerie landscape that had been virtually untouched for centuries have clearly all fed into creating Paradise Falls in the film. It’s this level of research that sets Pixar films apart and creates films that are so convincing.
It’s no surprise that Pete Doctor also wrote Monsters, Inc another Pixar film that is absolutely untouchable in it’s genre. He also wrote WALL-E and if I start talking about that stunning, lyrical opening sequence, we’ll be here all day. At this point, Monsters University has yet to open, but as he’s penning it I think we can be assured it’s in good, sentimental hands.