There’s one thing which immediately strikes you about Up. It is abundantly clear from its opening frames that no focus group was involved at any point during its inception or execution. There was no committee stage. No list of Executive Producers all wanting their little bit of input. No interference from The Money. If there had been … imagine how the pitch session would have gone: “So, it’s a kids’ cartoon, okay, and it tells the story of a bereaved, grumpy pensioner and this little, fat Japanese kid he can’t stand. Because he wants to die, the pensioner floats his home away on a load of balloons and they meet up with a big bird and a talking dog. Oh, and the bad-guy looks like Kirk Douglas and has an airship.” Yes, that’ll go down massive with the fat Japanese pensioner demographic. That’s a big dollar! Where do I sign!?

No, it’s fair to say that Up was made the way films used to be made … the way films should be made. Experienced creative individuals got together and said “Wouldn’t it be great if …” Of course, these film makers are no fools, they knew they’d need to keep The Money happy, so they hypnotised It with the magic words “In 3D”. That was it, the deal was done.

The end product breaks rules magnificently. The first fifteen minutes is a short film all in itself, beginning before the Second World War and telling the story of young Carl Fredricksen and his best friend Ellie, who eventually becomes his wife. In probably the sweetest, most moving sequence in any animation, ever, we see snapshot moments of their lives together, all played out without a word of dialogue, culminating in Ellie’s death and all the colour and joy going out of Carl’s life. This prologue sets in place all the building blocks out of which the rest of the story will be built, but does so whilst also telling a perfect, complete and compelling story in its own right. This opening sequence is a miracle of modern film-making and a stark example of why Pixar stands so far above everyone else when it comes to creating animation that viewers will want to return to for generations.

The rest of the film is almost a let-down after this tour-de-force opening, but the vision of writer/directors Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson (plus their co-writer, Thomas McCarthy) is so clear and economical that they don’t drop their creative guard for a moment.

The thing that originally brought Carl and Ellie together was their imaginative love of explorer and adventurer Charles Muntz … who set off in his airship in the 1930s to ‘Paradise Falls’ in South America, and never returned. Carl (now voiced by the venerable Ed Asner), in a move intended to be the final act of his life, decides to honour the promise he made to Ellie seventy-odd years before, to go to Paradise Falls. The way he chooses to do this is a moment of pure Roald Dahlian invention … attaching thousands of balloons to his house to float it to South America. This took me straight back to my days as a six year-old, shining the classroom floor with the seat of my short pants as our teacher read James and the Giant Peach to us. Main-lining such raw, uncut imagination is a heady experience. You never forget you first hit of pure fantasy.

Of course, Carl is not alone on his voyage, he has a stowaway in the form of little Russell (voiced by seven-year-old Jordan Nagai) and it is with his inclusion that one realises just how clever Doctor and Peterson are being. There is a real affection, a real connection between the very young and the very old and Up exploits this mercilessly. The affection between the two grows, inevitably, and gives proceedings a humanity and a warmth that they would lack otherwise.

Even the gimmicky 3D process has been used sympathetically, so it is possible to watch the film in 2D, as I have, and not even notice the attempts to create artificial vertigo in the mind of the poor, benighted viewer.

Weaving together influences from Jules Verne’s Nemo to Conan-Doyle’s Lost World with touches of Norman Rockwell’s Americana, the film is actually deceptively simple in its look and feel. Up has less on-screen detail than The Incredibles, less social satire than Wall E, less gags than Toy Story. However, like Doctor’s previous effort, Monster’s Inc, what this film has in bucket-loads … is heart.
Dir: Pete Doctor & Bob Peterson
Stars: Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer
Dur: 87 mins
Cert: U

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