Has any studio had a run as successful and as glorious as Pixar's? Certainly not during most of our lifetimes. Starting with 1995's Toy Story and running through the past two summers' instant classics, Ratatouille and WALL-E, Pixar's filmography reads like a list of modern masterpieces: Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles. Even the animation studio's lesser movies — like A Bug's Life and Cars — deliver more heart, joys and laughs than most CGI talking-animal/-vehicle/-whatever flicks.
You can add this year's Up to that esteemed list. In fact, you can move it to the top. Pixar's 10th film ranks as one of its best. Along with The Incredibles, it's undoubtedly the studio's most human movie.
Up is an eyes-wide-open fantasy about Carl Fredricksen (voiced by the always-cranky Edward Asner), whose lifelong dream of being a globe-trotting adventurer has been halted every step of the way. He marries his childhood best friend, a girl who shares his dreams and quest for adventure. Over the years, they live and love and try to scrape up enough cash to visit Paradise Falls, a mythical wilderness in South America.
After his wife dies, Carl — now an old man with a bad back and an even worse temperament — spends his days in his ramshackle house, which stands in the middle of a construction site (Carl refuses to sell, even as high-rises go up around him). After he assaults a worker on his property, the court orders him to a retirement community.
So Carl hatches a plan to escape to Paradise Falls by attaching hundreds of balloons to his house. Surprisingly, it works, and he sets sail serenely above the city streets. All goes well until he hears a knock at the door and finds Russell, an overweight and chatty Wilderness Explorer (it's like a Boy Scout) who needs one more badge — "assist an old person" — to advance to the next level. A brutal storm steers Carl and Russell miraculously in the middle of Paradise Falls' outlining forest. And then Carl's real adventure begins.
Unlike the meditative WALL-E, Up is filled with thrilling action scenes and colorful set pieces. Like WALL-E, it's a stunning visual work with an eco-friendly message.
It's also Pixar's most adult film (and its second to receive a PG rating): Carl's wife has a miscarriage, he draws blood after whacking someone on the head and the villain is ruthless in his pursuit of a rare bird. Plus, there's a tearjerking moment that ranks right up there with Toy Story 2's "Jessie's Song." Most of all, Up is a liberating and breathtaking work, filled with an appropriate sense of adventure.