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Up (2009)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/10/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/7/2009

As with most film fans, I was fascinated by 1995's Toy Story, and became in immediate Pixar fan. Their next few films were just as mesmerizing. But, as time went on, I began to find their films bloated and joyless. The computer animation continued to be dazzling, but the starting with The Incredibles (which was simply a rip-off of many, many comic books), the stories were uninspired. The movies were far too long, as if the Pixar folks wanted to show off their resources. Ratatouille was cute, but monotonous, and Wall-E was simply awful. (And yet, for some reason, critics continued to heap praise on these movies.) So, when Up premiered this past summer, I had no interest. (It's rare for our family to skip an animated film in the theater, but nobody wanted to see this one.) The movie just didn't look appealing and I was sick of Pixar's descent into complacency. Well, as it turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Up opens in the 1940s (?), where we meet a young Carl Fredrickson. This energetic child is fascinated with the newsreels which show the exploits of adventurer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer). One day, Carl meets Ellie (voiced by Elie Docter), an equally exuberant young girl who also loves Muntz. This shared passion sparks a feeling of familiarity between the two and they are soon inseparable, despite the fact that Muntz is called a fraud and disappears. Ellie and Carl get married and start a life together. Their plan is to save enough money to visit Paradise Falls, the location in South America where Muntz explored. However, life gets in the way of their dreams and Carl and Ellie soon grow old and Ellie dies. Sad and alone, all that Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) has is his memories and his house, which is being threatened by construction. Determined that he will not be forced out of his home and into a retirement community, Carl rigs hundreds of balloons to his house and it floats right off of its foundation. Carl's plan is to fly the house to South America. There's only one hitch; young Wilderness Explorer Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) was hiding under Carl's porch and now he's along for the ride. Carl and Russell fly to South America, where they find a lost world. Confronted by strange creatures and unexpected dangers, Carl must learn to trust this young boy and find a new reason to live.

Looking back at Pixar's recent output, I see films filled with excess, in the sense that they were too long and filled with Pixar's love of multiple finales. However, there was no real sense of imagination or wonder in those movies. (Anyone who thinks that Wall-E was original is fooling themselves.) I saw the once magical Pixar as a company which was putting out just any old thing, knowing that the public would eat it up. In my opinion, Pixar was being overtaken by Dreamworks Animation and Sony Pictures Animation. (Have you seen Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? That movie is hilarious!)

Thus, I saw reviewing Up as more of a chore than anything else. The first 30 minutes of the film were interesting, but they introduced a new concern about Pixar -- at whom are their films aimed? Children are the primary audience for these movies and many kids, along with their families, go see the movies. But, is that the target audience? The first act of Up is filled with content which is going to go over the heads of many youngsters and simply depress adults. (At one point, I believe that I called it, "The most depressing movie ever made.") The themes of growing old together and never fulfilling your dreams are very heavy. While Pixar could be commended for not being afraid of putting mature themes into the movie, come on, this is a summer family film. Make with the fun. (And don't get me started on the fact that a bunch of people who get to play with computers and make movies for a living would have the audacity to try and tell a story about how life gets in the way of following your dreams.)

I took a break from watching Up at the 33-minute point, and I was very reluctant to go back, but I'm glad that I did. Following the downbeat opening, Up reveals itself to be one of the most creative and imaginative movies that I've seen in a while. This is the kind of movie that Pixar should/could have been making over the last few years, but, for some reason, didn't. Computer animation makes it possible for filmmakers to tell any story, no matter how crazy it is, and Up takes full advantage of this. An old man using balloons to fly his house to South America? Where do they come up with this stuff? That's the kind of questions which we should be asking about Pixar movies! Once the house takes off, so does the story. Carl and Russell's odyssey to South America is full of wonder and color, and made for a truly unique experience. The last 2/3 of the movie deftly mix action, adventure, emotion, and comedy in a way which Pixar hasnít done in years. We are introduced to interesting characters, the movie never drags, and there is just the right amount of action to draw the kids in, but never scare them. It may sound trite, but the movie certainly goes from down to Up.

Up isnít perfect, but itís certainly a step back in the right direction for Pixar. There some plot-holes in the second half of the film, and a lot of questions are left unanswered. (Some of this is cleared up in the extra features.) As usual, the animation is top-notch and the movie makes great us of contrasting the barren landscapes with the colorful characters. You may have to fight your way through the filmís opening, but stick with Up and youíll find a fun adventure which may rekindle your faith in Pixar.

Up is easily distracted by squirrels on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is perfect. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic and the primary hues practically leap off of the screen. The image has a great amount of depth and this HD transfer allows us to see all of the details in the animation. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track takes full advantage of the filmís sound mix. The stereo effects are good and nicely detailed. Their placement accurately matches the on-screen action. The surround sound is impressive as well, and the flying scenes and action scenes offer many examples of this. The subwoofer is a bit weak in some scenes, but during the finale it really comes to life. File this under demo disc.

The Up Blu-ray Disc contains many extras, which are spread across two discs. Disc 1 opens with the short "Partly Cloudy" (6 minutes), which was shown in theaters with Up. It's OK, but nowhere near as good as the short which accompanied Wall-E. Next up is another short, the new "Dug's Special Mission" (5 minutes). This plays like a deleted scene from the movie and expands on the other dog's plans to get rid of Dug. "Adventure is Out There" (22 minutes) examines how the animators and filmmakers visited the actual remote mountains in South America in order to get inspired for the film and gather information for their art. This contains a great deal of footage from this trip. "ALTERNATE SCENE" (5 minutes) looks at how the creative team couldn't decide how part of the finale should play out. They discuss this fact and we see some rough storyboards of their other ideas. Disc 2 opens with a series of seven DOCUMENTARIES (50 minutes) which explore many facets fo the film such as Carl, Russell, the dogs, Kevin, making a house fly and the music. "ALTERANTE SCENE" (9 minutes) depicts a much different and far more violent relationship between Carl and Ellie. "Promo Montage" (6 minutes) is a series of little moments featuring the characters. These look more like animation tests and deleted scenes than promo material. Finally, we have two TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long