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Movie Reviews

Thumbs ‘Up’ for wonderful new Pixar adventure

Thumbs ‘Up’ for wonderful new Pixar adventure

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Neil Pond
American Profile
June 23, 2009
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Up / Starring Ed Asner (voice) / PG

The new box-office blockbuster from Pixar/Disney is the story of a grumpy old man, a plucky young boy and a bunch of balloons that take them on the adventure of a lifetime.

In this tale that’s both a flight of fancy and a reminder of the everyday riches of real life, Ed Asner is note-perfect as the voice of Karl Frederickson, a widower who regrets never being able to take his wife on the trip of her dreams--to South America and an exotic “lost land” called Paradise Falls. The first 20 minutes of the movie sets the stage as Karl and Ellie meet as children in the 1920s.

They both love fantasizing about globetrotting adventure, particularly the escapades of a dashing explorer named Charles Muntz, who dazzled the world with his discovery of Paradise Falls, then returned there on his zeppelin, never to return.

Little Karl and little Ellie (adorably voiced by the young daughter of the movie’s director and writer, Pete Doctor) grow up and get married, but life keeps intruding on their dream of following Muntz’s elusive trail. A masterful, heartbreakingly sweet scene compresses the couple’s lifetime of love into a wordless montage that explains much about the depth of their relationship and the strength of their emotional ties that remain after Ellie dies.

Now, in the present, Karl lives alone in the only house that he and Ellie ever called home. Developers want it as the last piece of real estate for a big construction project. But Karl has another idea, one involving the inflatable leftovers of his previous career as a sidewalk balloon vendor.

After a spectacular liftoff, Karl is surprised to discover that he’s not alone. His stowaway, Russell, a roly-poly Wilderness Scout working on a merit badge for “assisting the elderly,” begins as Karl’s comedic foil but ends up stealing your heart. Making it to Paradise Falls, the unlikely traveling companions encounter talking dogs, an enormous squawking bird and the reclusive Muntz himself, who’s not quite as welcoming as he first appears.

The gags are plentiful and splendidly smart. Props that seem insignificant--like a leaf blower, or the tennis balls on the feet of Karl’s walker--re-appear later in wondrously funny ways. The talking dogs are even more hilarious than the term “talking dogs” would suggest; they become the basis for some of the movie’s best bits.

When Karl and Russell return from their adventure, the movie serves up a touching coda about the treasures that are often life’s simplest pleasures. (“It’s the boring stuff,” says Russell, “that I remember the most.”) And keep your ears open for one final pooch punch line about the colorblindness of man’s best friend.

No matter how you look at it, through the innocent eyes of a child or the wider, wiser worldview of an adult, the bright, buoyant “Up” brims with imagination, adventure, humor and heart. Grab hold of these balloons and get ready to soar.

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