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Wednesday, June 3, 2009 10:19 am

More than a cartoon, Up is a life lesson

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The previews for Pixar’s Up do everything they’re suppose to do to get you to see it. They feature cute cartoon characters coupled with an intriguing premise and promise a few laughs against a bright palette. What they don’t clue you in on, and this is the film’s strongest suit, is its ability to move you. Without question, Up is one of the most entertaining films of the year, but it’s also the most genuinely, heartfelt movie to come to the screen in 2009.

This is hardly surprising. The thing that separates the Pixar product from other animated features is the ability to speak to our humanity. Whether the characters are cars or fish, the makers of these films always make sure their subjects are stand-ins for us, dealing with universal feelings of love, doubt, despair and accomplishment. Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille and Finding Nemo aren’t just cartoons — they’re moving life lessons.

Up is no exception, though its main characters are, in fact, human. Carl (voice by Ed Asner) is a resentful senior citizen as the world around him has changed. Since the death of his beloved wife, Ellie, he has no real desire to adapt to it. With the construction of a massive new skyscraper going on around his modest home, he decides to leave his troubles behind and complete an adventure he and his wife had planned but never completed. A former balloon salesman, he ties a few thousand of them, filled with helium, to the top of his house and sets off to Paradise Falls in South America. Problem is Carl doesn’t realize he has a stowaway on board — a Boy Scout named Russell (Jordan Nagai) who needs to assist an elderly person to get his final merit badge. Needless to say, the kid’s bitten off a bit more than he can chew.

The adventure that Carl and Russell set off on is wondrous, fraught with peril and suffused with delight. Directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson fill the screen with one knockout vision after another. We find ourselves in the middle of a violent thunderstorm as Carl’s sturdy home is buffeted by gales and abused by lightening, only to be dropped in the middle of the lush Amazon forest that’s bursting with the bright colors of a mythical bird as well as lush greenery. Don’t even get me started on the spectacular sight of an airship from the 1930s they find that’s still being piloted by disgraced explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). All of these sights are a wonder to behold as is the attention to detail the Pixar animators give each setting. Not only do the characters seem real but so does their world, which transcends the limits of the animated
medium.

While Up is a visual knockout, its emotional pull is what makes it soar. The love affair between Carl and Ellie is rendered lovingly in a five-minute sequence that sums up their relationship, showing us their hopes and dreams, some of them realized, some of them not, with the constant being the unfailing love they have for each other. If you don’t shed a tear or two during this sequence, wait until Carl looks once more at Ellie’s book of memories after his adventure is on the rocks. There’s a revelation inside that provides perspective for the widower — and us — that’s as profound as anything you’ll see in a film this year. In the end, Up reminds us that as long as we are breathing, life holds the opportunity for countless adventures, some of the most profound being the ones we don’t realize are occurring right before our eyes. Do yourself a favor — get a box of tissues and go see Up, the best film of the year.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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