- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

It’s often said that Pixar makes children’s movies that adults can appreciate, but that’s selling the animation studio short. In reality, it makes movies for adults that children will tolerate — sometimes only just.

Last year’s “Wall•E” opened with a largely silent first act, relying solely on the prowess of the animators to get across the idea that Wall•E was an emotional being with curious tendencies and his love for EVE. Critics, and adults generally, loved the movie’s opening, but children were less impressed: At the screening I attended a few weeks after the movie’s debut, one youngster simply had had enough about 10 minutes into the flick and started talking in his “outside” voice until the action really got going.

This year’s “Up” has a similar opening. After introducing the audience to the main character, Carl Fredricksen, a young boy with a penchant for adventures, and Ellie, the girl with whom he falls in love, director Pete Docter and writer Bob Peterson embark on an ambitious silent sequence. They take the audience through about 70 years of the couple’s relationship, through the joy of youthful marriage to the heartbreak of a failed pregnancy and the unfulfilled dreams sacrificed to the security of middle-class existence, right through the sadness of losing a lifelong love.

It’s a remarkably engaging journey, all the more so because it unfolds without a single word explaining the action. You see the pain and the love and the worry in their little animated faces, and it’s moving — unless, of course, you don’t have the life experiences to understand via facial expressions and mood lighting alone what the couple is experiencing.

“They don’t talk very much, do they?” queried one youth sitting one row up as the sequence drew to its emotional climax. One wonders if the Pixar crew knows just how far it’s stretching the attention span of its purported core audience.

The real adventure begins after Ellie’s passing, and here the children re-engage with their full attention: Carl (voiced by Edward Asner) has had enough of the modern world’s encroachment on his idyllic little house, and when the state tries to force him into a nursing home, he decides to go on the adventure he and Ellie put off for too long. He’s traveling to South America, via balloon.

Thousands upon thousands of balloons, to be more accurate. Carl isn’t going alone, though, as a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) is on the house, in search of his “assisting the elderly” merit badge, as it takes off. The pair travel to Paradise Falls, finding adventure and new friends along the way: a giant bird that Russell names Kevin, and Dug, a dog that talks (voiced by Mr. Peterson).

Dug is a classic Pixar creation, lovingly brought to life in a cartoonish-realistic way. His dialogue is perfectly canine: loving and loyal (“I have just met you and I love you”) but also scatterbrained and easily distracted (“Squirrel!”).

“Up” is a classic Pixar production, right “up” there with the best of the studio’s work. The characters have emotional depth you don’t see from any other studio’s animated properties and, once Carl and Russell reach Paradise Falls and come into conflict with the adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), the story contains the perfect mix of action and comedy to keep the audience laughing while firmly gripping the edge of their seats.

★★★½

TITLE: “Up”

RATING: PG (Some tragedy, peril and action)

CREDITS: Directed by Pete Docter, written by Bob Peterson

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: https://disney.com/up

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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