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Even bigger triumph than "Wall-E."
A Scene from "Up."
OPENING WEEKEND: $60,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $220,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

March 2nd, 2009: A comedy adventure about 78-year-old balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen, who finally fulfills his lifelong dream of a great adventure when he ties thousands of balloons to his house and flies away to the wilds of South America. But he discovers all too late that his biggest nightmare has stowed away on the trip: an overly optimistic 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell.

What to Expect: If there is one question that every Hollywood executive would love to have answered, in exhaustive detail and preferably with Power Point slides, it is how the hell Pixar has made nine successful movies in a row. I admit that I haven't conducted an exhaustive search of every studio's history, but I'd wager quite a lot of money that no other studio has pulled this off in the history of ever. It's almost getting ridiculous now. We keep waiting for them to screw one up and it just isn't happening.

Article continues below

What's the secret? Did John Lasseter make some kind of deal with the devil?

That's what they'd like to think. They're hoping there's some magic potion or secret trick or mystical pharmaceutical they can put in the water that will make them like Pixar, able to crank out film after film that's creative, sophisticated, appealing and successful. Films that don't pander, films that respect their audience, films that will be classics for many years to come.

It turns out that there isn't anything mystical about Pixar's success. They have simply decided to foster an atmosphere that supports creativity. They find the best, most creative people. They let them have ideas, they give them time and support to develop them, and then...here's the key point...they leave them alone. Once a film is in the pipeline, shepherded by its director and writer, they don't interfere. They let the filmmakers do their work, surrounding them with more creative people to serve as sounding boards and reality checkers, they give them as much time as they need to reinvent their films, as they must inevitably do, trashing whole sections that don't work and rewriting until they have the film they want to make.

I know. What a concept, huh? Encouraging creative people to...you know, be creative. Jim Morris, one of the producers of last summer's triumphant Pixar offering "WALL-E," said that Pixar has the closest thing to an auteur-style of filmmaking than any other studio due to the degree of artistic freedom afforded to its directors and animators.

"Up," Pixar's tenth feature-film release, has been something of an enigma since the first teaser trailer was released last summer. No one really knew the details of the story, it wasn't an easily-encapsulated little sound bite of a plotline. All anyone knew was that it involved a man flying away in his house by means of balloons attached to the chimney, a sort of homebody version of Lawnchair Larry. Compared to the all-out full-bore trailer that Disney ran for "Bolt" at the same time, Pixar's teaser for "Up" was quirky and mysterious, a bona fide tease of a teaser.

Since then we've gotten more details about the story. For their hero, writer/director Bob Peterson and director Pete Docter have chosen...a cranky little old man. An unlikely protagonist? So was a rat in a kitchen or a battered little trash-collecting robot. In crotchety old Carl Fredericksen (Ed Asner), Docter has created what he and Peterson call a "caricature." "Up" will be only Pixar's second film featuring human characters (the first being "The Incredibles") and they are very conscious of the pitfalls in rendering humans in computer animation. Since realistic images aren't really possible, Docter took inspiration from cartoonists like Al Hirschfeld and created exaggerated characters with a more cartoonish look than we've seen in the past. Carl is tiny, with a stylized squared-off head.

Carl has recently lost his wife, Ellie. They always wished to travel but life got in the way, and they never had the chance. Now the world is closing in around Carl. Developers want to tear down his house and social services wants to put him in a home. So he uses his last day of freedom and escapes into the air, borne aloft by hundreds of helium balloons, headed to South America and Paradise Falls, Ellie's longtime dream destination. A crimp in his plans shows up in the form of a kid named Russell, an enthusiastic Wilderness Explorer who's earned every badge there is, except one for assisting the elderly. He's stowed away on Carl's flying house and they find themselves unlikely allies in their adventure. But once they reach South America, the real adventures begin.

The story is an original, and something of a departure for the Pixar team. It's more fantastical and yet more grounded. Docter and Peterson both claim inspiration from Japanese animation legend Hiyao Miyazaki, and the influence is clearly seen in some of the fantastical creatures Carl and Russell encounter in the jungle. Most Pixar films, even with their talking insects and superheroes, have been grounded in reality, the reality of whatever world we're entering. This world is high-flying, literally, and creates a familiar world which veers off into fantasy, much as Miyazaki's films do. The film owes a debt to "The Wizard of Oz" as well, although the filmmakers have intentionally framed the film to avoid direct comparisons.

Docter is one of Pixar's brightest stars. He co-wrote both "Toy Story" films and directed "Monsters, Inc," one of Pixar's most successful films and my personal favorite. He and Peterson have had "Up" in the pipeline for nearly six years, a long time even for an animated feature. According to Docter, they've reworked the film several times. The idea was germinated by Docter and Peterson, but once they had the central image of a house flying away hanging from a huge bunch of balloons, they had to decide where to go from there.

The film got a tremendous shot in the arm in early February when Docter previewed the film with a clip of unprecedented length, the first 45 minutes of the film, at New York Comic Con. The journalists and filmmakers who saw the preview had reactions ranging from merely impressed to downright rapturous to out-and-out orgasmic. Many viewers were left in tears by an early silent montage depicting the many years of Carl and Ellie's marriage, from the time they meet as children with a shared dream to explore through their many years together during which that dream slipped away from them, pulled from their grasp by the realities of daily life, until on the verge of their first trip together, Ellie falls ill. Docter admits that this montage was not part of the initial treatment, that as the film was first envisioned, the audience met Carl as he is for the bulk of the film...a crotchety old man. It was decided that the character needed an emotional underpinning, and by all reports the montage succeeds at this brilliantly.

Some viewers were a little thrown by the more fantastical elements that surfaces once Carl and Russell make it to South America, but no one seems to have lost any of the faith that Pixar has spent the last decade building up. If anything, the strongest reaction the preview engendered was frustration that they didn't have the rest of the film there! Every aspect of the film from the voice acting to the score to the animation has been praised to the skies, and these are cynical film bloggers who aren't that easily impressed. It's a good thing, too, because after last fall's Comic Con, at which no more than a quick couple of minutes of "Up" were shown, no one really knew what to make of the film. The plot was a total mystery, the concept was even a little unclear. But with this extensive preview, the studio has corralled everyone back into the fold.

In fact, I can't find a single naysaying opinion. Not one person who thinks this one's a dud, nobody who thinks Docter's made a misstep, no dissenting opinion about "Up." To a person, everyone's raving and saying that this will be even more of a triumph than "WALL-E." Big shoes to fill, to be sure.

"Up" marks a transitional period for Pixar as well; it's their first film in the nascent 3D format which is currently working so well for "Coraline." This has to be exciting for chief creative officer John Lasseter, who is reportedly a huge nerd for 3D. He supposedly even had his wedding pictures taken in 3D...twenty years ago.

In Conclusion: I just don't see a way this can miss, even if it's only half as good as the advance audience is saying it is. Let's see...it's Pixar. It's cute. It's summertime. And did I mention it's Pixar? Welcome to the happy hunting grounds.

Similar Titles: The Incredibles, Monster's Inc.
May 29th, 2009 (wide)
November 10th, 2009 (DVD)

Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios

Pete Docter, Bob Peterson

Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, John Ratzenberger, Jordan Nagai

Total: 85 vote(s).

Kids & Family, Action & Adventure

Click here to view site

Rated PG for some peril and action.

96 min





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