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Left to right: Dug, Carl and Russell.

©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

3 out of 4 stars



  • Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
  • Written by Bob Peterson
  • Classification: NA

The new Disney-Pixar animated feature Up is the kind of movie that leaves you asking "How do people come up this stuff?" - not in derision, but in awe. Up adheres faithfully to the three-act structure, prescribed emotional arc and predictable sentiments that make almost every movie feel formulaic these days. Yet the outrageously inventive fable that it tells lifts it above the mundane and sends it floating off to the heights of charm as if carried by a helium balloon.

Or a bushel of helium balloons in this instance, for that is Up 's chief image, of a house borne aloft by a huge bunch of multicoloured balloons, a magical icon that belongs in a storybook, if not perhaps a physics text.

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The reason for the balloons is that old man Carl (a recalcitrant grouch warmly voiced by Ed Asner) is flying his house down to Venezuela to fulfill his late wife's long-held fantasy of living on the edge of the renowned Paradise Falls. (The falls are fictional; the setting, once he gets there, is part rain forest, part towering cliffs and weird rock formations.) As children, he and his future bride once idolized the discredited explorer Charles Muntz, who set off for the jungles at the foot of the falls vowing never to return until he had secured a live specimen of an exotic bird that no one believed existed.

So Carl arrives in Venezuela with a boy scout named Russell as an unwilling stowaway, trapped on the porch when the house lifts up. They land a good distance from the falls, and Carl is determined to walk the rest of the way with the house, tethered to their bodies, floating above. Russell, however, befriends some strange bird he names Kevin. A talking dog named Dug joins their band, and soon the inadvertent explorers discover they have a choice: to get to the falls or to protect Kevin from a whole pack of viciously rampaging dogs who must capture the bird for their master.

This is good. We don't just have impediments to the quest, we have two contradictory quests. And the lesson for Carl - that his regrets are overblown and his second chance does not lie in the direction he thinks - is subtle enough that it dawns on the audience at the same time as the character. Plus, as the figure of the long-lost explorer Muntz, richly voiced by Christopher Plummer, emerges from the rocks, there's a nasty narrative twist that Carl himself sums up rather nicely: Imagine getting to meet your childhood hero and then finding out he wants to kill you.

Technically, of course, the film is highly impressive in that rather over-wrought manner beloved of contemporary animation studios. Like a connoisseur of vinyl, I prefer the flatness of the pre-digital cartoons and find much of the contemporary stuff just creepy in its hyper-realism. Up is not merely digital but digital 3-D: Put on those funny glasses and the charming wee characters look like dolls posed in their cute little dollhouse. It's a cloying effect but it evaporates as the characters' personalities grow on you. The fang-bearing dogs and vertiginous canyons, on the other hand, jump off the screen in a pugilistic manner guaranteed to terrify younger members of the audience.

Caveat emptor in that regard. Disney has historically peopled cartoons aimed at children with violent, gruesomely animated villains. For all its delicious whimsy, Up is no exception.

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