The most tender, touching and deftly told love story of the year is in the opening few minutes of “Up,” a wordless survey of a lifelong romance that plays out between the meeting of two adventure-hungry children and the lonely sunset years of the widowed husband decades later, the happiness gone with the death of his wife.
That’s just the prologue but it communicates the depth of emotion and devotion and need that will continue to reverberate behind the comic comments and outlandish fantasy adventure, a mix Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World,” the romance of explorers from thirties lore and Boy’s Own Adventures, the bubble-gum colors of a children’s picture book and a bouncy humor, all stirred with memories of childhood dreams.
The latest from Pixar, directed by Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.) and written by Bob Peterson (“Finding Nemo”), is another journey movie, but this one is undertaken by a senior citizen determined to complete that odyssey into the unknown he was never able to give to his wife.
With his blocky face and steam-shovel jaw and gravel voice (by Ed Asner), Carl Fredricksen has the look and manner of a sour curmudgeon. He chases a cute little almond-eyed Wilderness Explorer Scout (earnestly trying to win his last merit badge) off his porch and calls his house (the lone holdout in an urban renewal project steamrolling all traces of the suburban past under anonymous structures of steel and cement) Ellie, as if it held the last vestiges of his wife’s spirit. But we can’t help but remember the child who was once full of wonder and warmth, even if he’s so single-minded in his purpose that he know longer sees it in the magic around him: talking dogs, a mythical bird, a house soaring aloft by gazillions of toy helium balloons and hiked around a rocky plateau like it was a kite.
Especially winning is Dug, instantly one of the all-time great screen dogs. Through an electronic voice-box on his collar, he communicates his overcharged enthusiasm and unconditional loyalty with a voice as innocent and earnest as the giant puppy of a snowman of the Bugs Bunny cartoons (“I will love him and pet him and name him George”), complete with the appropriate short attention span and Squirrel! Sorry, where was I?
Pixar’s scripts remain the high water mark for animation screenwriting and no studio creates such a tactile sense of texture and weight and physical presence with CGI animation. “Up” may be the first substantial step in the coming-of-age of 3D. Avoiding all the dimensional gimmickry of 3D kitsch – arrows into the audience or boulder bouncing off the screen and into your laps and all that sort of thing – Docter and his animators reach back into the screen to create environments with depth and characters with a sense of solidity and physical presence.
Sure, you can see where this is going, but the trip is remarkable. The whimsy and wonder sneaks in between the humor and the adventure while Carl slowly shrugs off his regret and self-pity and pulls the lonely outcasts together into a new family and a new adventure. Ellie would be smiling.
Also published in the Seattle PostGlobe here.
Directed by Pete Docter; co-directed and written by Bob Peterson; featuring the voices of Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, John Ratzenberger. 98 minutes. Rated PG for some peril and action. Opens wide in area theaters Friday, May 29, presented in stereoscopic 3D in select theaters.