‘UP’ Review

Published 6 years ago by , Updated June 1st, 2009 at 8:33 am,

Short Version: UP is arguably Pixar’s finest achievement to date, and is surprisingly mature (and moving) in its subject matter. Oh, and the 3D visuals are pretty awesome too.

up review UP Review

Screen Rant Reviews Pixar's UP (in digital 3D)

There’s nothing better than an easy review: Pixar’s latest summer offering, UP, is a fantastic film. Simply fantastic. Seriously, if Ratatouille and Wall-E deserved to be in the running for Best Picture of the Year (as many said they did at the times of their releases) then UP certainly does.

It’s that good.

The film – which was written by Bob Peterson (Finding Nemo, Ratatouille) and directed by Peter Docter (Monsters, Inc.) – delivers all the things we’ve come to expect from a Pixar animated feature: gorgeous visuals, a strong story rife with moral lessons and (gasp) good character development; humor both low-brow (for the kids) and high-brow (for the grownups), with strokes of bold wit and a dash of sagely wisdom for good measure.

And yet, UP also delivers something quite unexpected: Pixar’s most adult-oriented story yet, slyly disguised in a fantastic adventure tale.

UP tells the life story of Carl Fredricksen (the unmistakable voice of Ed Asner), a shy little boy who grows up in (1930s?) America, an era in which people pack into movie theaters to watch news reels about adventurous explorers like Charles Muntz, who travels the world on one epic quest after the next.

Young Carl Fredricksen idolizes Muntz: He spends his lonely days roaming his neighborhood pretending to be Muntz until one day he runs into Ellie, an energetic and fearless young girl (everything Carl is not) who idolizes Charles Muntz just as much as Carl does. Ellie and Carl cross their hearts then and there and swear to be great adventurers like Charles Muntz, and with that oath, theirs is a match made in heaven.

After that fateful first encounter, we get a truly beautiful montage of Carl and Ellie’s life-long romance. We see the young kids grow into a teenage couple; see them get married and buy a house, working day jobs (balloon vendor) while saving up for the kind of adventures they fantasized about as kids. We watch the couple deal with the ups and downs, joys and tragedies of life; and gradually we watch them grow into old age, Ellie’s “My Adventures” scrapbook still unfilled, even as her time on Earth ends.

With Ellie gone, Carl becomes a disgruntled old man desperately trying to hold on to a house, heirlooms and a lost-love he cherishes. A physical confrontation with neighborhood developers leads to Carl being forced into a retirement home for the rest of his days – but before the old man will give in he decides to honor the oath he and Ellie swore as kids and take one last shot at adventure! Carl ties an impossible number of balloons to his house (working a balloon cart at the zoo was his job for many years), rigs a steering system and UP he goes!

pixar up frame11 UP Review

But there’s a stowaway on board: a young boy scout-type named Russell (Jordan Nagai), who is desparately trying to earn his last merit badge assisting the elderly, for personal reasons that are as moving as a they are heartbreakingly naive. From that point on, the story mainly focuses on Carl trying to find room in his broken heart for love and friendship again, with Russell acting as his primary foil and simultaneous source of inspiration. Russell is also handy for providing the comedic relief the kids will get.

Of course there’s a whole flying to South America, evil nemesis (Christopher Plummer), talking dogs/mythical bird adventure thrown in there.  All of that stuff is pretty cool, and will be sure to entertain the kids. However, as one of the grownup kids, the story (for me) was all about Carl dealing with his profound sense of loss and love. The flying house escapism, fantastic creatures and evil villains were all just means and metaphors for that awesome emotional narrative.

No lie, there were a lot of sobs and sniffles around me in the theater. If you’re old enough to know about love and loss, it’s hard not to be affected by UP. By now it’s no secret that Pixar knows how to tell a fantastic story, but who knew they could handle romantic drama so well? Superb work.

Visually, UP is just as stunning. The digital 3D tech employed for this film is far from a gimmick – it enhances the experience of the film by multitudes. When Carl and Russell are walking over cliffs or trekking through gorgeously rendered South American jungles, with an enormous floating 3D house harnessed to their backs, it’s not just some of the most gorgeous eye-candy seen onscreen (the balloons are truly amazing), it’s also a very clever and potent metaphor for grief. Rendered in 3D, those themes stood out loud and clear; the rest of the time, this movie was just a treat to look at.

russel carl pixar up UP Review

I confess having wet eyes myself, not once, or twice, but on several instances during UP. Sometimes I was thinking, “This movie is breaking my heart.” Other times I was thinking, “This movie is melting my heart.” And sometimes, I was simply thinking, “This movie is so damn beautiful.”

It definitely lifted me UP.

Our Rating:

5 out of 5

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  1. Ill man up, i almost cried 3 times during the film. If you’ve ever been in love, or are in love, you will get teary eyed. The story line was perfect, it wasnt too short or too long. I really hope it gets nominated for best film and not just in animation. I didnt get to watch it in 3-D but it was well worth it.

  2. lol, yea it did. It had me cracking Up! get it? sorry.

  3. May I add to this stunning review of “UP” that the movie incorporated a fantastic dream sequence that left everyone in the audience, I saw the movie with, dying with laughter!

  4. “if Ratatouille and Wall-E deserved to be in the running for Best Picture of the Year (as many said they did at the times of their releases) then UP certainly does.”

    The problem here is, WALL-E was a better film, and if *it* didn’t make it into the running, Up certainly shouldn’t (and won’t) either.

  5. @Matt

    Disagree about Wall-E. I was disappointed with it.

  6. I’ll definitely check out this movie.

    And Wall-E was retarded. It was boring, I could count the funny parts with only one hand, they couldn’t make up their mind if they wanted CG or real people, the environmentalist message at the end was ridiculous… I simply don’t get why people made a big deal out of that movie. I saw it for free and was still disappointed…

  7. If UP is better than Ratatouille, then I must see it. IMO Rat was the best Pixar movie so far, but UP sounds really interesting based on Kofi’s review

    Totally agree about Wall-E. It would have been a fantastic 10 to 20 minute short film that was extended into a mediocre feature-length movie.

  8. I took my kids to see Up in 3D today and it was entertaining. For me, I enjoyed The Invincibles more but this movie was first rate with a grand adventure and story.

    @Michael Midnight
    Yeah, that dream sequence had me laughing, as well as the dogs and, um, Kevin? 8) Don’t ever give Up on your dreams.

  9. My score: 9 out of 10!

  10. I wasn’t a big fan of Wall-E as far as Pixar films go, either. But IMHO this was right up there with The Incredibles… even better as far as story, but possibly not as re-watchable because there are parts that will make you tear up.


  11. Yes this movie was amazing visually but was really quite depressing in the beggining… loved doug (the golden retriever 😛 ) Great movie, makes you think about things…

  12. Seen UP with my 9 year old. We both loved it. Glorious.

    This is a PERFECT movie.

    Pixar makes treasures. Magical ones at that.

  13. Look, I agree Pixar makes fabulous movies, but this one was NOT one of them. I took my daughters, 5 and 8 to see this today, and was disappointed. First, the (SPOILER ALERT HERE) life series of Mr. Ferguson would make a grown man cry. I mean SERIOUSLY? Second, two of the scenes with the dogs made my girls a bit scared. I have seen every Pixar movie out there, and this would not rate in the top 5. The graphics were amazing, but the storyline was sad at times, which to me is not a kid movie. This was almost more of an adult film than one made for kids. Stick to Ratatouille or Incredibles – they were MUCH better….

  14. I thought the movie was perfect. Something for everyone! I think it is one of Pixar’s best films. I hope it gets best film as well, but really doubt it will. I have to admit I teared up, too. Absolutely wonderful. Not just visual, but with such heart, makes it endearing.

  15. I totally agree with Momof2girls for the movie was kind of sad and I noticed several kids around me asking parents to take them home. To me the movie should be for the kids and keep the drama to a minimum.

  16. BEAutiful movie. Was really really really sad. I indeed cried 3 times cuz i see me being miserable if i lost my best friend, my wife. It was a good movie but i too feel that it had too many mature tones for a kids movie.

  17. My fav Pixar film is Ratatouille, but it must be said that Pixar does know how to do a great Romantic story as evident in Wall-E.
    It is a simple story of Wall-E just wanting to be recognized by Eve and hold her hand but that one element blows away all these other so-called “Romantic” films starring McConaghey, Hudson, etc.
    Thats saying something when a film about robots has the best “romantic drama” as opposed to films with people. To me atleast.

  18. I feel that Pixar definitely focuses on making great Films. They make sure they have a good story and then visuals to match. I think the problem is that people still associate animated fare with children’s movies (for instance: The upcoming film “9” will not be for kids on any level, and I think that too many people will bring kids). Animation is a form of storytelling, and I think it wrong to criticize the film as not being “for kids” when the film is just what it is – AMAZING.

  19. Jlaz,

    If they did as you suggest, animation will forever be pigeonholed into artificial fences as an artistic medium.

    Some of us like watching animation as adults too, you know. Even if we don’t have kids.

    I hate to be repetitive, but Pixar doesn’t make “Kids” films. They make films for general audiences that happen to be animated, and this one was rated PG for a reason. Parents need to research the films they take their kids to before they go out to the theater, and they need to know whether or not their kids can handle a film’s themes, even if it is animated.

    Don’t forever condemn animation to the play pen set.

  20. @ jerseycajun

    I agree. I’m tired of parents crying about films they took their kids to that weren’t for kids. DO YOUR RESEARCH.

  21. I agree with jerseycajun and Kofi on this. I couldn’t believe that when I went to see The Dark Knight last year that there were people with 4-5 yr olds in the theater. Hellllllo? This isn’t Adam West’s campy Batman. That film was entirely inappropriate for a 5 yr old.

  22. Although I wouldn’t put “Up” with the same warnings as “The Dark Knight”, the information one needs to understand why it’s rated PG is practically in 75 percent of the online reviews. Everyone has been talking about that first 10 minute segment for example, and several others have mentioned the occasional display of blood.

    Some kids can handle these issues and others have to wait, but it’s all on an individual basis, which is why the parent knows best and should use his or her own guidance to make a final determination.

    This isn’t exactly top-secret information for parents to find.

  23. Just another point.

    Why must all kids be shielded from down emotions? I mean, yeah, you don’t want a film to END on a down note or be overall depressing, but anyone who sat through this film can hardly say that this film was a downer on the whole. If anything, the way they handle the issue of death in the film is quite understated, and the sadness of the scenes in question hardly permeate the whole film.

    On the contrary, that montage early in the film provides the basis for what to me was some of the most powerful positive emotional beats in Pixar’s significant track record. You simply can’t get to the emotional high without experiencing the low first. There isn’t anything I can think of that they should have cut simply for the sake of playing it safe for the kids who probably are too young for PG films in the first place.

  24. Pixar FINALLY made up for the weak WALL-E. …which was very flawed and the nessage being just terrible. Yes, it’s another twist on Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson…but was very enjoyable.

  25. jerseycajun

    Yeah I understand how it could make for an awkward drive home if you’re a parent (I remember when I first learned about death for real), but the film, as you said, does a GREAT job with it’s ultimate point about grief and how to let go of it and move on.

  26. Disliked Wall E, but it was decently made, and I appreciate that.

    Incredibles is my favorite PIXAR film so far tho.

    Thanks for the review of UP! Definitely going to go see this! 😀

  27. @ Momof2girls

    Uh, those story elements added depth and realism, I’m glad they took a risk and went with somethign ACTUALLY touching, not some story about a cute ferret that learns that everyone is equal! And if your girls were actually scared by any one of those dogs then take them to see the latest Telly Tubby movie, because apparently they can only deal with really boring and gay stuff.

  28. @manwithamission

    Thanks for the support, but no bashing little children on this site, please. We try to keep things more civil than that.

  29. What’s with everyone being disappointed in WALL-E? That movie was so wonderful, so innocent and very moving. I loved every bit of WALL-E. As for Rat…now THAT movie was a disappointment.