Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #82
Director: Peter Docter and Bob Peterson
Starring: Edward Asner and Jordan Nagai
My outspoken distaste for 2008's WALL-E has been one of the greatest (and only) controversies I've generated with this blog, but some may find it comforting to know that I think Pixar redeemed themselves and then some with their animated feature from the following year, Up. In fact, I think Up may be the best film Pixar Studios has ever made. The combination of beautiful, heart-wrenching visual storytelling and action-packed adventure scenes creates one of the most disparate dichotomies of any one of the studio's films, but it works. The first fifteen-odd minutes of the film are the best fifteen minutes in the history of animation, the best fifteen minutes of film in 2009, and fifteen of the saddest minutes I've personally ever seen in a movie.
For the unfortunate few who aren't familiar with the movie, the movie follows up its childhood innocence-themed opening scene with a wordless sequence wherein the two friends date, marry, grow up, deal with everyday life, grow old together, and finally...well, I won't spoil anything, but protagonist Carl Frederickson's wife does what happens when you get old and sick. It's one of the boldest, most adult moves Pixar has ever made, but it drives home the tragedy of Carl's situation perfectly, and every time I've watched this movie, the first act has left me – and anyone who I may have been watching it with – in tears. Where the movie really gets daring, however, is with the bulk of the next hour, which shares none of the tragic tone of the opening. It's not long before Carl's balloon house is flying high above the clouds, and the movie becomes a more typical adventure film, albeit one heavy with serious themes – like why, for example, the Boy Scout's father doesn't wonder where he is, and why he doesn't show up when he receives his badge at the end of the movie.
Pixar had dealt with some weighty subject matter before Up. Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, and, yes, WALL-E also dealt with serious issues with class. But Up is the studio's first true triumph in balancing serious, tragic, heart-gripping footage with funny, action-packed sequences to create a holistic product that is better than the sum of its parts but nothing without them. They continued this with Toy Story 3, which I still defend as the best installment of the trilogy for just those reasons, and hopefully after the presumable misstep that cash cow Cars 2 will be, hopefully they will continue to strike that perfect balance. Perhaps in fifteen years they will have made a half dozen more masterpieces with the formula, and we can all point back to Up as the place where it all began.
The Good: That "married life" sequence is one of the greatest things ever, seriously.
The Bad: Pixar hadn't perfected animating people yet. Toy Story 3 showed that they're capable, but Carl and Russell look cartoonish perhaps to cover up some technical troubles with making realer looking people.
The Skinny: Deserves its spot.