After seeing WALL-E last year in the theater (and then again on Blu-ray), I thought Pixar's work, and computer animation in general, couldn't get any better than that. Today, Pixar proved me very wrong with their latest film, UP, directed by Pete Docter, who previously directed Pixar's Monsters, Inc.
Now while the film is advertised as 3D, the glasses type not the rendered type (which it is, but you get my point), I saw the film in it's flat, glasses-less version. And quite frankly, after watching the film, I don't think it needed the extra effect... But more on that later.
UP centers around Carl Fredricksen, who we see as a child when the film opens. Young Carl is a huge fan of adventurer, Charles Muntz, who explored South America in search of an elusive bird. One day Carl stumbles upon a beat up home, only to find a girl there, Ellie, who is also a fan of Muntz and has a heart for adventure. Soon after is a really touching sequence of Carl and Ellie, with no spoken words, showing the two growing up, getting married, buying the house they met in and growing old together. The sequence also brings about Ellie's death, and for what is label as a "kid's movie", it's all incredibly sad and had I not been in the theater with someone I probably would've cried (no really, I was holding back... don't give me that look!).
After the sad sequence, the film shows Carl in what one would assume is present day. He lives alone, still in the home that he and Ellie bought, even while the world around him has become a development and he is constantly pressured to leave his home. Around this time we meet Russell, a Wilderness Explorer (aka Boy Scout) who is looking to finally earn his "Assisting the Elderly" badge, but Carl has no interest in participating. After an unfortunate event, Carl is forced to leave his home, but not before he lets loose a ton of balloons and lifts his home off the ground... but he's not alone.
The rest of the film centers around Carl and Russel's adventure in South America, and their encounters with "Kevin", the elusive bird sought after by Charles Muntz, and Dug, one of Muntz's highly trained dogs. This is where the film gets really special, because there's a really great chemistry between all of these characters, and there's a definite sense of character development throughout the film.
What was really interesting though was how many "adult" themes there were for what's considered a "kid's" movie. Not to give much away, but there's the overbearing aspect of Carl being unable to bear with his wife's death, and it's brought up that Russel has some abandonment issues, and there's even a scene with blood. But I don't want to give you the wrong idea, this film certainly has its fun, kid friendly parts for most of the film; but I wasn't expecting the film to be as mature and sad as it was at parts.
Visually, the film shows off Pixar's technical prowess once again, surpassing even WALL-E. Not to be a jab at that film though, as stylistically, WALL-E and UP are two different worlds. However, with a film centered around humans, there's a sense of texture and design that you didn't really see with WALL-E's blobby humans. And while the previous film experimented with the use of live-action and some 2D animation, UP sticks strictly to computer animation, and I don't think it should have be any different. What you get is a beautifully rendered, and lusciously colored film unlike anything else, and it further pushes computer animation as an art form rather than just being the "it thing" in animation. As for the 3D release, I was more than pleased without extra glasses, but I can certainly see where it would be used when watching it flat, but as I said, it doesn't need it for that to matter.
Overall, I'm really surprised with how much I liked UP. I went in seeing this, feeling as if nothing Pixar makes could ever be better than WALL-E, and I was proven very wrong. UP continues on what WALL-E did, by bringing more adult themes into what people consider a medium for children, and I really have the commend them for that. To say least, I'm a bit discouraged that their next two films are Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, but if UP is anything to go by, I have the utmost confidence that Pixar and Disney will continue to make spectacular work.
Overall Score: 9.8/10
Yes, this makes Pixar the first folks to get two VFH Seals of Approval (the first being the WALL-E Blu-ray). Now, you can argue that we're Pixar fanboys around these parts, but the fact of the matter is, DreamWorks Animation does not push computer animation as art form, instead relying on toilet humor, well-known voice actors, and 3D gimmicks. UP on the other hand pushes computer animation further into the adult category, just as WALL-E before it, and I feel if Pixar stays on this track they will soon rival Oscar winning films; but every step counts, and UP is that extra step. Call it what you will, but if animation doesn't evolve as an art form, we will be watching Monsters vs. Aliens 5 in 2012, and who wants to do that?