Whatever Pixar is paying Pete Docter, they should double it.
Docter is the director and driving force behind Monsters, Inc. and Up, the two best films the company has produced thus far, which, considering the quality of Pixar’s films, is truly saying something. Docter has an amazing ability to connect with an audience – to make a film that entertains children while simultaneously resonating with the adults sitting next to them in the theater. Instead of simply creating an eye-catching movie that kids will drag their parents to, Docter seeks to create films that adults can be just as excited to see as their children are.
For children, Up is the story of a cranky old man who attaches balloons to his house and floats away to a tepui in South America. Along the way, he befriends an energetic young Wilderness Explorer, a talking dog and a colorful, exotic bird. The good guys battle an evil old man and his pack of dogs in a wild adventure that culminates with a huge battle scene inside a dirigible. It’s an action-packed and entertaining film filled with colorful characters and plenty of adventure that kids will love.
And for most directors of children’s movies, that probably would have been enough. But Docter, along with the rest of the creative team at Pixar, isn’t content to simply put out a superficial movie that kids will enjoy. He wants to tell a story, one that everyone in the theater will be invested in.
That’s why, for adults, Up is something completely different. It’s an emotional tale dealing with love, loss and growing old. Carl Fredricksen, the cranky old man, loses the woman he has loved since childhood and is left to spend his remaining years inside the home they built together, literally watching the world outside pass him by as the neighborhood he lives in is torn down to put up high-rises. He misses the love of his life, Ellie, and feels an overwhelming sense of regret that the two of them were never able to visit Paradise Falls, the beautiful tepui in South America that their childhood hero, Charles Muntz, spent his life exploring.
The opening 20 minutes of the film are absolutely brilliant. We first see Carl as a little kid watching newsreel footage of Muntz. From there, he meets Ellie and the two form an explorer’s club together. We then see an extended montage spanning the couple’s life together, culminating in Ellie’s death. This opening sequence is essential to the film, since it establishes Carl’s motivation for affixing balloons to his house and flying to South America, and in the wrong hands it could have easily felt forced or schmaltzy. But Docter handles it perfectly and is able to create a bond between Carl and the audience.
From there, the film shifts into a more straightforward, action-oriented kids’ film, but it manages to keep you emotionally-invested in Carl’s story along the way. His gradual transformation from a grumpy old man who has closed himself off to the world to a protector and father-figure of Russell, the overzealous young Wilderness Explorer who inadvertently ends up along for the ride when he shows up at Carl’s doorstep hoping to earn a merit badge for assisting the elderly.
Dug and Kevin, the two animal friends rounding out Carl’s newfound clan, definitely seem like they are aimed more at entertaining the kids in the audience, but at 28, I still thoroughly enjoyed both of them (and have a feeling I’m not the only adult who did). Dug wears a collar created by Muntz that allows him to verbalize his thoughts, which adds an incredibly entertaining wrinkle to the film. And Kevin, the mischievous multicolored bird that looks like a cross between an ostrich and a parrot, is absolutely hilarious, particularly in a scene where the bird mimics Carl’s mannerisms.
The bonus features included on the three-disc release really allow you to appreciate the level of thought that went in to crafting this film. There are a series of short documentaries on the second disc that each deal with a different character or facet of the film. There is a documentary about Carl, one about Russell, one about Kevin and one focusing on the dogs in the film. There are also documentaries focusing on the balloons, Carl’s home and the musical score.
These documentaries show you the attention to detail and the care that went into crafting each character and aspect of the film. The animators studied old people to get Carl’s mannerisms right. They brought in a dog expert to help them get the behavior of the pack of dogs down pat. They built a scale model of Carl’s house to get the lighting and animation right on it. They animated 10,297 different balloons to make sure the house’s ascension into the sky was as believable as possible.
In a 20-minute documentary on the first disc entitled “Adventure Is Out There!” a number of people involved in the making of the film headed out to South America to experience the tepuis firsthand. They actually climbed up one of the giant flattop mountains themselves just for the experience. The documentary is great because it actually shows you things they observed on this expedition that ended up in the film.
Two alternate scenes also help to show you the thought process that went it to crafting the overall story. “The Many Endings of Muntz” shows the evolution of Muntz’s final scene in the film and why they decided to script it the way they did. “Married Life” shows a different version of the opening montage with Carl and Ellie, one that involved the two playfully punching each other, which didn’t play well with their test audience. Seeing the evolution of these two scenes again allows you to appreciate just how much thought really goes into making these movies.
There are also a number of other bonus features that are entertaining, if not particularly insightful. There are two animated shorts – Partly Cloudy, which was paired with Up in theaters, and Dug’s Special Mission, a new animated short created just for this DVD and Blu-ray release. There are also a number of promos and trailers and a “Global Guardian Badge” game for the kids.
Whether or not you have children, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Up. The Blu-ray release (which looks absolutely beautiful), comes with a DVD and digital copy of the film, so if you have a Blu-ray player, it’s definitely the way to go. In fact, pick up a copy for everyone on your Christmas list to ensure that Pixar has the money to offer Docter that much-deserved raise.
Written by Joel Murphy. Up is available today on Blu-ray and DVD.
- Review – Monsters, Inc. (Blu-ray)
- Review – Bolt (Blu-ray)
- Review – Tangled (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
- Positive Cynicism – Disney, animation directors and why I still haven’t seen Brave
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