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Say "Yup" to "Up" : Pixar's latest is a charming mix of heartbreak, hope and hilarity

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Say "Yup" to "Up" : Pixar's latest is a charming mix of heartbreak, hope and hilarity

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Forget about the flying house, that giant bird and the talking dog. All of those out-of-the-ordinary items. Because -- when you get right down to it --“Up” is a movie that celebrates the boring stuff. Those tiny, little moments that really make life worth living.

Kevin the bird and Russell from "UP"
Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, it takes Carl Fredericksen quite a while to realize how important the little things are. 70 years, to be exact. When we first met Carl, he’s this 8-year-old boy in the 1930s watching a newsreel which reveals that Fredericksen’s hero – explorer Charles Muntz – has recently been discredited.

As Carl walks home from the movies that afternoon recreating Charles’ exploits, he discovers that another kid in the neighborhood is also enamored with Muntz. This is 8-year-old tomboy, Ellie. Who is so determined to become just like her hero that she has actually turned an abandoned house into a crude approximation of Charles’ airship. And Ellie vows to someday follow Muntz down to South America and then explore the mile-high mesas around Paradise Falls.

Carl and Ellie in Disney's "UP"
Copyright 2009 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

As soon as young Fredericksen sets his sights on this lively lass, Carl falls in love with Ellie. And in one stunning, dialogue-free four-minute-long sequence, “Up” takes you through their entire life as a couple. Their unconventional wedding. How Carl & Ellie turn that old abandoned house into a home of their own. The heartbreak that these two feel when they learn that they can’t have children. Carl’s determination to make good on his childhood promise to Ellie to someday fly her on down to Paradise Falls. And how real life – a flat tire here, a broken leg there – kept getting in the way of making that dream come true.

And then suddenly Carl is alone. Worse than that, due to an unfortunate run-in with a construction worker, Fredericksen is now being forced to leave the home that he & Ellie built and move into a retirement community. And as this 78-year-old is pulling a suitcase down out of the closet, he comes across his wife’s old scrapbook. Which is where Ellie wrote about all the things she planned on doing over the course of her life.

Carl Fredirickson and house in disney's "UP"
Copyright 2009 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And that’s when Carl remembers his long-ago promise to fly Ellie down to Paradise Falls. Which is what then causes this elderly balloon salesman to tie 10,000 balloons to his house and take flight.

Of course, what Fredericksen hadn’t counted on was an accidental stowaway: 8-year-old Junior Wilderness Explorer, Russell. This boy has just spent the past few days badgering Carl so that Russell could then complete all of the requirements for his “Assisting the Elderly” badge. And this Wilderness Explorer chose the exact wrong moment to wander back up onto Carl’s porch.

Now you’d think – from the way that this character has been portrayed in “Up” ‘s trailers & commercials as well as those “Upisodes” that have been airing on the Disney Channel – that Russell is this movie’s comic relief. But that’s where you’d be wrong. There’s a kind of heart-breaking reason behind this Junior Wilderness Explorer’s efforts to earn that “Assisting the Elderly” badge.

Concept painting of Russell the Willderness Scout from Disney's "UP"
Copyright 2009 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Even Kevin – that goofy 13-foot-tall bird that Carl & Russell discover as they’re dragging their still-airborne house through the jungle – has a sweet sort of secret that deepens this character. Makes you genuinely care for this oversized canary.

That’s the real beauty of “Up.” Nothing is ever quite what it seems to be. This Pete Docter film is loaded with surprises. Moments that will make you laugh out loud (like that geriatric fistfight between Fredericksen and Muntz, where canes can become swords and even dentures can be used as lethal weapons) or tear up (Be sure to have a few tissues on hand for Russell’s award ceremony toward the end of this picture).

Charles Muntz in Disney's "UP"
Copyright 2009 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Is “Up” perfect? Well, I could have done without all of those “He smells like prune juice” jokes that the talking dogs in this movie continually make at Carl’s expense. And given the high number of Disney villains who have plummeted to their deaths over the decades, I have to say that I was somewhat surprised to see Docter trot out this tired old cliche. But that said, given where this film’s climax is set, it was a pretty logical way for Muntz to go.

But that said – overlooking these very small flaws – this new Pixar movie would be well worth the full price of admission if only for Dug the Dog. This character virtually walks away with “Up” because of the amazing job that those animators up in Emeryville did with creating this canine caricature. From the way this character walks to Dug’s slobbery tongue, all of the necessary details are there. And then when you factor in that Dug actually talks like a dog should (“I smell you,” “I have just met you and I love you” and – of course – “Squirrel!”), you’re talking comedy gold here.

Copyright 2009 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

I don’t want to say too much more about “Up.” Mostly out of concern that I might then blow even more of this movie’s delightful surprises. But this much I will say: When you do plan on going out to see Pixar’s latest , be sure and factor in a little extra time for what comes after this screening. For – once you’ve seen “Up” – you’re definitely going to want to go out and get yourself an ice cream cone.

And then -- when you’re out on that curb counting cars -- be sure and count ALL of the cars. The blue, the red AND the grey ones.

Doug, Carl and Russell from Disney's "UP"
Copyright 2009 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

“Up” is rated PG. Not for language, mind you. But more for several situations in this film that young people may find rather intense. Not to mention two brief glimpses of blood.

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  • A review more than two weeks before the movie opens?  I won't even remember to come back and read it by the time I've seen the movie.

  • Umm, why didn't you warn us that there were some really heavy spoilers in this article?

  • He did!

  • So where can I expect the Pizza Planet truck? :D

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