I never cry at movies. Never. (Ok, maybe every now and then, but it’s pretty rare. That scene in “Bride of Frankenstein” when she screams, and he looks so forlorn…that gets me misty eyed. And when E.T. wakes up. And when everyone in the control room and applauds in “Apollo 13.” But that’s it. Really.) But Pixar’s newest almost got me in its first twenty minutes, and then absolutely gobsmacked me in its second hour. I wept. Like a baby. You will, too.
The movie opens with a scene that feels like standard Disney fare, as a young and spunky kid invades the life of a much shyer one. They both harbor a deep love for adventure, and idolize one disgraced adventurer in particular. In a masterful montage, those two grow up, and get married. They have big plans for great adventure, but life interrupts, with its flat tires, and broken bones, and home repairs. They are unable to have children. And then they grow old, and he is left alone. And if half the audience wasn’t in tears after the first twenty minutes of this movie, I’m a liar.
And so he becomes a grumpy old man. And because Pixar and director Pete Docter know what they’re doing, we feel a littly grumpy with him. He stubbornly stays in the house where his whole life has happened, even as high rises go up around him. A Cub Scout offers to assist him, in order to earn a merit badge, and he sends him off looking for an imaginary creature. He clubs a construction worker with his cane, and is declared a public nuisance. Then, the morning before he is carted off to a nursing home, he harnesses a kajillion balloons to his house and flies away.
But this crazy act of imagination and visual wonder is just the beginning. The old man and his stowaway – the faithful cub scout — make their way to South America, where they encounter a pack of talking dogs, a crusty old explorer hellbent on a mad mission, and a giant, dopey-looking, colored bird. The bird chases the boy, the dogs chase the bird, the mad explorer orders the dogs around, the old man chases the bird, the mad explorer chases the old man…it’s all terrifically fun, it somewhat loopy and not quite as tightly plotted as we’ve come to expect from Pixar.
But this isn’t really a movie about adventure; it’s a movie about the reasons for adventure. I’m not going to describe the scene that brought strange salty wet stuff to my eyes, because I want you to be just as gobsmacked as I was, but it has to do with realizing that who you adventure with matter for more than where or how you adventure. The old man, mostly against his will and in the midst of his grumping, gathers a small family around him – the boy, the bird, and a dog named Doug, and then must risk everything to keep his little family together. In contrast to him is the old mad explorer – the one the old man had idolized as a youngster (which makes him, what, a hundred years old?) an acclaimed “adventurer” who has spent half a decade trying to prove his critics wrong and bring back the prize. He is a cruel and lonely old man. He has surrounded himself with dogs, and invented a collar that allows them to talk. Apparently they are also superintelligent, as some of them can cook dinner and others can fly biplanes. But they are still pretty dumb, and several tight moments hinge on the hero’s ability to distract or sidetrack them – reminding us that, after all, they are only dogs. The old mad explorer is all alone, in spite of his manufactured family.
That may seem like quite a bit of film-critic analysis for a film about a house carried around by colorful balloons, but one of the joys of watching Pixar is discovering the themes underneath the impeccable storytelling. “Up” is hugely fun, absolutely beautifully animated, and, yes, sweet and soft. It is also a great story well-told, with solid themes that endure long after animation techniques have changed and plot devices have been forgotten.
- if Pixar movies – Wall-E, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Toy Story) are the highlight of your summer and films you eagerly anticipate. “Up” measures up.
- if you need a good cry from a sweet movie.
- if you have kids.
- if you like funny, fun, sweet, clever adventure movies.
- if you hate crying in movies.
- if you’re too cool to see “kid’s movies,” and need to stay at home and get over yourself.