I’ve got my head turned away so nobody can see the tears rolling down my cheeks. A shy little boy has met fellow adventure enthusiast Ellie, and dreamt of following in the footsteps of explorer Charles F Muntz in South America. Carl has married Ellie, held her as she cried because they couldn’t have children, and grown old with her. Year by year, their dreams to visit Paradise Falls have faded. Finally a widower, Carl is an elderly curmudgeon.
It’s about ten minutes into the film, and I’m devastated. I’ve also laughed out loud twice already.
Carl, facing eviction, flees being packed off to a retirement home by attaching tens of thousands of balloons to his house and flying up into the sky. He has a stowaway in the form of a talkative child called Russell, who is trying for his Wilderness Explorer badge in Assisting the Elderly. Carl’s not very happy about his exciteable guest, but here they are, floating above the very real wilderness as they reach their destination. They land on the tepui mountains and soon encounter a giant bird, and a good-natured but stupid dog with a translation collar that tells us what he’s thinking. The usual madcap antics ensue.
What makes Up so special goes beyond the outstanding visual renders and endearing character animation. It’s from the Monsters Inc team, so you can anticipate the humour, but the poignancy is what gives it its edge. The San Francisco Chronicle was “moved and astonished by the economy with which specific visuals are invested with emotion” – but that’s not to say it’s bleak or hard work. It has few big names involved, but the voice actors give oustanding performances: Edward Asner (Mary Tyler Moore Show) channels Spencer Tracey and Walter Matthau for his performance as Carl, making him likeable as he is difficult. It’s only the second animated feature (after Disney’s Beauty & The Beast) to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. I have never loved an animated film more – really, I just cannot recommend this film enough.
The most amazing thing about Up is Michael Giacchino’s Stravinskyesque soundtrack, which is almost distracting in its beauty. It did – of course! – win the Oscar for Best Original Score.
Here’s a brief featurette about that remarkable music.