Plot: What’s it about?
With every new entry into Disney’s Pixar line of films, I’d imagine that the bar is getting pretty high. Let’s face it, these movies haven’t exactly been failures at the box office and have enjoyed as much critical acclaim as commercial appeal. What began in 1995 with “Toy Story” has turned into one of the sheer delights of watching animation. And it’s with this latest offering, “Up”, that shows the Pixar juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down. That’s good. With traditional 2-D animation going the way of the dodo, these “Pixar-esque” films are becoming more and more popular. Now there’s nothing wrong that, so long as they’re entertaining. Most are and some aren’t. What really amazes me even more is that each one of these takes several years in development. While watching the supplements on “Up”, it usually starts with an idea and blossoms from there. The attention to detail, the constant rewrites and the sheer amount of effort and energy involved are nearly too much to comprehend. Still, they keep cranking them out (and wouldn’t you if nearly every movie grosses half a billion dollars worldwide?). Does “Up” measure, uh, “up” to it’s predecessors? Read on and find out…
The first twenty minutes of “Up” might be some of the most emotional I’ve ever seen in a film (live action or animated). We meet Carl (later voiced by Ed Asner) and Elle (Elie Docter) as they meet as children. We see them grow up and get married. They turn the old and abandoned house into their very own. They have dreams; to live out an adventure by going to Paradise Falls in South America. They start a savings fund but life has a way of interfering. Flat tires, medical bills and other things interfere. Elle isn’t able to have children so the two end up old and presumably happy together. But fate interferes and Carl is left by himself. He’s cantankerous and keeps to himself and views his house as a shrine to Elle. He won’t sell it to the developers who are building high rise buildings all around him. After mistakenly injuring a worker with his cane, it’s deemed that Carl would be best suited in the Shady Acres retirement home. Carl, however, has no intentions of going so quietly and when the men come to get him, he ties a few thousand balloons to his home and up, up and away he goes. It’s here, pun fully intended, that the story takes off.
Carl is enjoying himself floating in the air when he realizes that a young Wilderness Explorer, Russell (Jordan Nagai) is scared to death on his deck. But the two manage to navigate their way to South America anyway. The duo then encounter a mysterious land and an even more mysterious, flightless bird which Russell names “Kevin”. As it turns out, this is the bird that explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) has been after for over fifty years. He’s become a recluse and has made it his life’s ambition to find and bring back this bird to critical acclaim. He’s also got an army of dogs that, through the use of a special collar, can speak. It’s a race against time to get the house to Paradise Falls so that Carl may complete his life’s journey. But will the appearance of Muntz intervene with his plans?
“Up” is so deliciously clever that it rose right up there with my favorite Pixar titles. It’s not my favorite or even my second favorite (those two spots are held by “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” respectively) but I’d have to put it in the top three. Like the other Pixar films, it’s got enough laughs that the kids will love it and enough subtleness that adults will laugh (and cry) along with it. I’m always amazed at the talent that they find to voice these characters too and how much of a part they really play. Craig T. Nelson was perfect as “Mr. Incredible” and I see Ed Asner in much the same way. The voice embodies the characters as much as anything else. Odds are this won’t be a hard sell to get you to watch this film. If you’ve seen any of the Pixar line of movies then you’ll no doubt have already seen this in theaters and probably already have this on your shelf (or under the tree). Still, if you need that extra push, then let me offer you a balloon.
Video: How does it look?
Disney presents “Up” in a 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer that is among the best I’ve ever seen. Yes, I pretty much say that with any computer animated film that I see on Blu-ray but the colors literally seem to burst off the screen. Take the subtle stubble on Carl’s face later in the film. The dirt and grain on Russell’s face and the complexities in Kevin’s feathers. Amazing. The richness and depth of color is only the icing on the cake as pretty much every facet of this transfer is so jaw-droppingly good that words can’t seem to do it justice. Should you use it to say “look at my TV and how good it is!” Yes. Yes you should. I’m out of adjectives and if you’ve seen any other Pixar movie on Blu-ray (or even standard DVD for that matter) then you know what you’re in for. This is perfect.
Audio: How does it sound?
Just as impressive as the video is the audio and the DTS HD Master Audio really delivers. The howling of the wind, the barking of the —SQUIRREL!!!— dogs and the little nuances here and there combine to create a symphony for your ears. There are some of the more “in your face” sounds like the rumbling of the thunderheads, the dragging of the house and the thump of the dogs attacking. Then there are the little things, like the shattering of a window in a house. The weird sound that occurs when you try and grab a balloon and the odd voice that comes out of the Alpha dog’s collar. Yes, “Up” is one of those movies that really sounds as good as it looks (and vice-versa).
Supplements: What are the extras?
“Up” comes to Blu-ray in a four, yes four, disc set. Granted two of the discs are a digital copy of the movie and the other a standard DVD of the film, but as I always say – better to have than have not. We’ll start with the first disc which contains the feature-length film which can also be viewed with Cinexplore with director Pete Docter and co-director (and voice of “Dug”) Bob Peterson as the two give us their insights on the film, their motivations in regards to the characters and how the entire project came together. It’s a great track and actually seeing these guys talk about it makes it that much better. The remainder of the supplements on this first disc are a trio of animated sequences: “Partly Cloudy” in which we see some scary looking clouds and how they make babies of every species. One very brave stork gets a cloud that produces some of nature’s cute, but painful offspring. Next up is “Dug’s Special Mission” which is actually more of an outtake from the movie as when it ends, it segues directly into the scene in the feature film. “Adventure is Out There” focuses on the core group of Pixar folk who journey to South America to get some ideas for the story. We follow them through their camping/hiking excursion as they mug for the camera. “The Many Endings of Muntz” is just that, a look at how many different ways there were to “get rid” of the Muntz character and how they finally settled on the one in the film. Who knew killing the bad guy would be so hard?
Moving onto the second disc, there’s more! We start off with an interactive game, much like the one in “Ratatouille” and “Monsters, Inc.” This one is more geography-based (for obvious reasons) and it’ll test your knowledge of states, state capitals and world capitals. I played for a few minutes, but saw that I had no chance of beating the high score so I quit. The meat of the supplements are under “Documentaries” which is actually seven different featurettes ranging in length from 4 minutes up to 9 minutes. We get a look at the protagonist with “Geriatric Hero” and why they chose to use an elderly man as the “lead” for the film. We also get a look at the dogs and “Our Flightless Friend Kevin” the bird and the ins and outs associated with these animals in the movie. More interesting was “Balloons and Flight” which focuses on the logistics of how this could conceptually work. I’m a sucker for anything technical, so this was by far my favorite. Lastly we have “Composing for Characters” and how the different types of music was associated with the characters in the film.
If you navigate back to the main menu, there are a few other goodies; the most notable being “Married Life” which is an alternate version of the scene that appeared in the film. We also get a look at director Pete Docter and how he was inspired by looking at old home movies minus the sound. Add it all up and there you have it. There’s also a promo montage of some scenes from (and some not in) the film as well as a few theatrical trailers. “Up” deserves to be in your collection, hands down.