Pixar’s latest animated offering has many strengths, and as original ideas go it is perhaps as impressive as anything to have come out of Hollywood this year. The story focuses on an elderly man, Carl Fredricksen, who attaches hundreds of balloons to his house in order to escape his mundane life. Intent on going to South America to fulfill an age-old promise, he is initially unaware of the presence of a young boy scout on his home-made vessel. Eventually, however they form a strong bond and Carl acts as Russell’s surrogate father.
The first thirty minutes of Up are particularly engrossing and deal with some mature themes. The adults in the audience will better understand the subtle emotional dilemmas of Carl Fredricksen’s life than the children. If younger audience members manage to get past this point without being distracted a wealth of adventure awaits them. In fact some of the most amazing visuals are produced in the imaginative action sequences set in South America. It is an absolute joy to watch Carl and Russel absentmindedly battling the enemies that lurk in this alien land, all the while trying not to loose grasp of their floating house. Here many of Pixar’s trademark visual gags reappear. The slapstick humour of these sequences still manages to seem fresh, despite Pixar having previously perfected them in their recent hit Wall-E.
Finally, like all children’s fairy tales, we must try to wrestle with the moral of the story. The fact that the film contains an elderly man as the protagonist signals that Pixar are trying to appeal to all age groups. Character development is also focused upon, and the mature themes presented at the start of the film are obviously part of the effort to appeal to older viewers. On the surface the messages that the film tries to convey seem innocent enough. The spirit of adventure it contains is closely associated with scientific exploration.
One criticism that has always been directed at Pixar, and is reinforced by Up, is the lack of a female protagonist or strong female character in their productions. Furthermore, here the home is gendered feminine, as Carl has named it Ellie after his wife. The only way this static, domesticated female can travel is through the help of a man, as Carl literally steers his feminine vessel. Like the studio itself the film cannot overcome this stumbling block. Perhaps Pixar should heed their detractors and focus on creating a larger variety of fully developed female characters.
Nevertheless, the visuals in Up help it soar above its competitors. The escapist value offered by Pixar’s film are in a league of their own and raise it beyond other Hollywood blockbusters. One must also praise the courage shown by the studio to continually push their boundaries by releasing complex films filled with original ideas. Last but not least, it’s immensely difficult not to enjoy a film which contains so many loveable characters.