ANOTHER YEAR, another Pixar masterpiece. Ho hum. You half wish the animation house would produce one more dud like Carsto break up the monotonous stream of heart-expanding excellence. (Not really.), writes DONALD CLARKE
Where do you go when you’ve just delivered something as extraordinary as Wall-E? Back to Earth, perhaps. Whereas last year’s Pixar showcase imposed everyday humanity on a fantastic environment, the gorgeous, hilarious, moving Upperforms a complementary operation.
Uptakes ordinary people with their ordinary tragedies and introduces them to various classes of sublime absurdity. It’s a film about flying houses, talking dogs and deranged megalomaniacs. But the most resonant characters remain an enthusiastic boy scout and a grumpy widower living in denial of his own niceness. Chaplin would have had no problem understanding Up.
The opening 20 minutes (already, thanks to an early US release, somewhat legendary) detail, with beautiful economy, the life of an elderly balloon salesman named Carl Fredricksen. Inspired by the adventures of a once-famous explorer, Carl and his wife, a sweetheart since childhood, intend, throughout their happy though childless marriage, to travel to a remote waterfall in South America.
Sadly, echoing George Bailey’s stasis in It’s a Wonderful Life, events conspire to tie them to their small house in a neighbourhood that, as the film begins, is set for redevelopment by sinister men in sleek suits. Carl, now widowed, frustrates the corporate monsters by attaching hundreds of helium- filled balloons to his home and flying off in search of the adventure he has been hitherto denied.
Unfortunately, an eager, endlessly positive boy scout called Russell is clinging on to the foundations when the house lifts off. The two heroes, a classic odd couple, gradually become pals as the improvised airship drifts southwards. There they encounter a gawky, dead-eyed flightless bird and a dog whose high-tech collar allows his thoughts to be spoken in hilariously utilitarian prose. It sounds bananas, but it makes perfect sense when you see it.
Coming after the thrillingly busy Wall-E, Upsees Pixar working hard at faking a cleaner and less ornamented look. As the square- headed Carl, voiced cantankerously by Ed Asner, descends in his stairlift for morning coffee, you note both the broad, caricatured nature of his physiognomy and the way every jerk of the lift has been perfectly modelled.
It takes a lot of work to make something look this uncomplicated. Everything, down to Jordan Nagai’s energetic vocal turn as Russell, has been carefully toned to chime with the film-makers’ precise aesthetic.
If there is one area in which Upactually manages to surpass Wall-Eit is in the hectic, comic chases that take up much of the last half hour. Maybe (just maybe) the equivalent sequences in the earlier film seemed a little (just a little) perfunctory. Here, the invention and slapstick never flag for a second.
That noted, Upwill be most celebrated for its darker, more troubling moments. The greatest animated films from Disney, Pixar’s corporate partner, never shied away from offering children fiends: Snow White’s stepmother, Stromboli in Pinocchio, Cruella DeVille. Upgoes several steps further by putting more commonplace terrors before its audience. We see Carl’s wife dying and watch as he becomes old and lonely. Russell’s dad is no longer at home and the boy isn’t getting the attention he deserves.
It is, of course, giving nothing away to reveal that both characters gain a kind of relief in the film’s final minutes. Still, it’s hard not to think of the troubled kids (and adults for that matter) for whom Upwill offer a rare moment of uplift in lives heading towards less happy final acts. Popular culture at its best really matters.