With their buoyant new movie, Up, those computer animation wizards at Pixar have come up with another cartoon gem to match such earlier triumphs as Toy Story, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Wall·E. And they’ve scored with the same winning formula: a combination of old-fashioned storytelling craft, newfangled technical virtuosity, sympathetic characters and great gags.
Pixar’s 10th film, the studio’s first to be conceived in 3D, also gets the viewer to root for an unlikely hero. After Ratatouille’s rat and Wall·E’s robot, meet Carl Fredricksen, a crotchety 78-year-old retired balloon salesman who’s voiced by Ed Asner and looks a lot like Spencer Tracy, circa Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Instead of mildly shuffling off to a care home, the widowed Carl ties thousands of balloons to his house and takes off in quest of the adventure that was his late wife Ellie’s lifelong dream – to visit the awesome Paradise Falls deep in the jungles of South America. The grouchy oldster discovers, however, that he has a stowaway on board, eight-year-old Russell, an irrepressible Wilderness Explorer (think boy scout) whose uniform is festooned with badges for scouting prowess but who has never before encountered a real-life wilderness.
Fetching up in a lost world out of Arthur Conan Doyle, the fabled destination of Carl’s childhood hero, explorer Charles Muntz (a terrific Christopher Plummer), the unlikely duo experience a series of adventures involving a pack of talking dogs and a giant flightless bird named Kevin – all filmed with Pixar’s customary wit and verve. The 3D is used with restraint, adding richness and depth without going overboard with in-your-face effects.
For Pixar, story and characters always come above technique. The tale’s thrills and spills are deftly handled but the film’s best sequence may just be its calmest – a wordless montage that movingly tells the story of Carl and Ellie’s long marriage. First Up gently tugs at your heartstrings, then it sends you soaring aloft.
On general release in 2D & 3D from 9th October.