Before we get to the movie, let’s talk about the short. No Pixar movie going experience is ever complete unless it’s preceded by one of their trademark shorts, and Up is no exception. This time we’re primed for the feature by a journey into the world of Partly Cloudy. It’s a place where babies are made by clouds, who then hand their newly made toddlers over to storks for delivery. Our stork has the misfortune to end up delivering for a dark little rain cloud with a proclivity for birthing nothing but trouble. It’s no fun trying to carry a baby shark. Everyone has their favorite Pixar short. Mine’s Boundin’ which I have handy on DVD, just in case I’m ever feeling really down. Like Boundin’ and all the rest, Partly Cloudy is funny and sweet. It fits comfortably on a shelf with Pixar’s other work and while it may not be their most remarkable to date, if you’re a fan of those other brief snapshots of animation magic (and if not what’s wrong with you?), you’ll love this too. Like everything Pixar does, it’s great.
How great is Pixar? Their movies say more in five minutes without words than most other movies say in ten pages of dialogue. Pixar doesn’t need words to tell a story, they get that film is a visual medium and they’re strong believers in the old adage that a picture says a thousand words; though I’m pretty sure their pictures say at least a million.
That’s never truer than with Up, which opens with one of a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking montage. It happens almost entirely without dialogue. While a gentle waltz plays we meet Carl Frederickson as a little boy, and watch him meet his future wife Ellie. They bond over their mutual obsession with adventure and as they grow up and grow closer they make plans for an exciting journey to South America where they’ll traverse the jungles of Paradise Falls just like their favorite explorer Charles Muntz. They get married, they live their life walking hand in hand through joys and hardships, all right there flying past us on screen without a word. As the music plays and the pictures move, they keep dreaming of Paradise Falls while life keeps getting in the way. They never make their trip. They grow old. Their entire life together lived in a dazzling, delicate few minutes there on screen leaving the entire audience an emotional wreck as finally Carl is in front of us alone, embittered, and paralyzed by the wonderful, loving memories of his wife. If you’re human you’ll weep, you’ll cry, and just when you’re ready to randomly hug the next person who tries to squeeze past in the aisle, the movie starts.
Now though, every frame of Up is tinged with the beautiful, bittersweet notes of that fading romance, that perfect love we’ve already seen up on screen. We know everything there is to know about Carl, we understand him, we feel with him. Carl’s decision to abandon the world and float away seems sensible and right. So he does. He ties balloons to the house he built with his loving wife Ellie and floats away to live out the dream they were never able to achieve together. Of course things don’t go as planned. A neighborhood boy scout named Russell was inadvertently trapped on Carl’s porch when he took off and though they eventually make it to the jungle, a misjudged landing places them on the wrong side of a cliff. Forced to trek across difficult terrain on foot, the drag the buoyant house behind them. Carl is determined to live out his wife’s dream and Russell has no choice but to tag along. Along the way they meet Doug, a dog who can talk, and Kevin, a strange bird which Russell mistakes for a snipe.
There’s a bad guy and there’s conflict but all of that’s external. What makes Up such a perfect, touching success is the way director Pete Docter and his team cut right to the heart of the matter. This is not the story of an elderly man and his boyscout sidekick wandering through exotic jungles and fighting dastardly air pirates. Sure that happens, but it’s really the story of Carl coming to grips with the loss of his beloved wife and finding a way to move on. The rest is just window dressing. Magnificent window dressing yes, but it’s only the icing on the cake of Up’s stunning, deeply affecting story.
Up is playing in theaters in both 3D and standard 2D. I saw the 2D version for this review and you can read an in depth review of Up 3D from Cinema Blend’s Katey Rich right here. Maybe the 3D adds something, but whatever it adds Up doesn’t need it. Pixar uses pictures to deliver something that's so much more than visual. No matter how you see it, you’ll be moved by it. Real men cry at Up.