Now, Wanderers, it may surprise you to learn that I’m a cynic, a contrary Mary so to speak. When a film receives critical acclaim and it seems like the entire world finds it necessary to rave and rant about just how fabulous it is and how I absolutely MUST see it, I tend to get my grump on. ‘Oh, it can’t be that good’, I cry, ‘These things can never live up to the hype!’ So, it was with this rather pessimistic attitude that I sat down to finally watch UP (2009) over the Christmas period. Well, Wanderers, what can I say? I got it wrong, oh so incredibly wrong, because this film completely blew me away.
At first, the entire premise of UP made me raise my eyebrows in a deeply sceptical manner. An elderly man and a little boy fly off to South America by attaching thousands upon thousands of helium balloons to a house? Uh huh. However, within minutes of the film starting, I was completely sucked in.
UP starts off by exploring the boyhood of its main protagonist, Carl Fredricksen; we learn he is a quiet child, but one with a strong sense of adventure who idolises a famous explorer called Charles. F. Muntz. We witness his first encounter with an outgoing tomboy called Ellie, who will eventually become the love of his life. The first fifteen minutes explore Karl and Ellie’s life together from a newly married couple to when Ellie dies in her seventies. This simple, everyday and yet extraordinary love story will have you reaching for the tissues. Repeatedly, in my case. We witness how two people spend their lives together, sharing a childhood dream of visiting Paradise Falls in South America but never quite achieving that particular goal, as life simply has a habit of getting in the way of their plans. After Ellie’s death, Karl is left widowed and alone with only his memories and the home that they shared such a happy life in. However, a property developer is after their home as it sits right in the middle of a building site. When an unfortunate incident with a construction worker leads to Karl facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a retirement home, he takes drastic action. Coming up with a fantastical plan, Karl uses helium balloons to lift his house up into the air and fly it to South America thus fulfilling a childhood promise he made to Ellie about living in a house at Paradise Falls.
Unfortunately, Karl didn’t account for a stowaway in the form of pesky but adorable chatterbox Russell, a Wilderness Explorer who is absolutely determined that no matter what he will get his ‘Assisting the Elderly’ badge. Even when this unlikely duo manage to reach Paradise Falls, they find themselves facing an entirely new adventure complete with a large, chocolate-loving, colourful bird who Russell nicknames Kevin, a lovable dog, Dug, who is capable of speaking through a specially designed collar and a familiar but aged figure from Karl’s boyhood…
Now, I have got to be honest here, I don’t think a film has ever made me cry and laugh as much as this offering from Disney’s Pixar. One of the things, I think that Pixar are simply marvellous at is mixing fantasy with some very shrewd insights into everyday life. What makes this film so wonderful to watch is the way in which relationships are built up between Karl, Russell, Kevin and Dug. I defy anyone who has a dog not to recognise the utterly believable portrayal of Dug’s thoughts and behaviour. I’m pretty sure if most dogs could talk they would saying the same sort of things as Dug. Since I recognise my own puppy’s actions in Dug’s behaviour, I can’t help but find lines like ‘I’ve been hiding under your porch because I love you,’ (superbly delivered with the sad face and tail) completely hilarious! Aside from the humorous aspects, UP also hints at the painful nature of family breakdown as eventually Karl learns exactly why Russell is trying so hard to get his badge and why it means so much to him. The sheer genius of it all is that UP never spells it out, it gives hints to its audience and credits them with the intelligence to read between the lines and come to their conclusions.
Now, of course, I could go on about how visually stunning UP is, how computer animation has become so advanced in recent years and how Pixar plays such wonderful attention to details like shadow and light but frankly for me it really was all about the story. Underneath all the grumpiness (mostly Karl to be honest), the ridiculousness and the humour, UP has a truly heart-warming message for its audience. Life is an adventure in itself, and that’s something we should never lose sight of.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this film. Just make sure to watch it with tissues at the ready.
Red Hamilton (thinks that life should generally involve more helium balloons)