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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


An elderly widower and a wilderness scout fly away in a balloon-powered house in Pixar's latest production, Up
A few years ago, I reviewed a movie called Danny Deckchair. It was the story of a guy who tied a bunch of balloons to a piece of backyard furniture and floated away. At the time, I was very eager to see the film because of its unusual premise; however, I quickly discovered that the premise didn't leave a lot of room for anything to actually happen. I mean, once he was floating in the air, what else was there? It was with memories of Danny Deckchair in my mind that I ventured into the new Pixar animated feature Up, which is about an old man who ties millions of balloons to his house in an attempt to fly to South America. On one hand, I have always had a deep, deep passion for Pixar films, and was therefore incredibly excited to see their latest effort. On the other, I wondered if Up was going to hit that same there's-nowhere-to-go-from-here wall. Thankfully, the folks at Pixar have proven time and again to be master storytellers, and they have found a way to make a seemingly-limited idea work in a manner that's both effective and profound.

The story begins with a flashback as a young boy named Carl Fredericken sits in a movie theater, watching a newsreel about his hero, explorer Charles Muntz. Soon afterward, Carl meets a young girl named Ellie, who also idolizes Muntz. In what may well be the single most beautiful sequence ever created for an animated film, we then see a wordless montage of Carl and Ellie's life together as they fall in love, get married, experience joys and heartaches, and eventually say farewell as Ellie passes away. If you don't get a lump in your throat during this, there is something wrong with you.

Completely distraught, Carl survives by clinging to the past. He refuses to sell his home to local land developers, even though everything around it has been built up. He obsessively keeps his belongings in exactly the same spot where Ellie kept them. Life stops for him. When the court system threatens to force him into a nursing home following his confrontation with a construction worker, Carl decides it's time to pursue the dream he always had with Ellie: flying away to a remote South American location (discovered by Muntz), having great adventures there, and building a house alongside a very particular cliff. He ties an innumerable number of balloons to his home and it lifts off the ground.

Carl is surprised to learn that a young wilderness scout named Russell (Jordan Nagai) has accidentally stowed away on his porch. Together they reach the destination, where they do, in fact, discover a great adventure - one that involves a rare bird, an army of "talking" dogs, and an oddly familiar recluse. The grumpy Carl isn't in the mood for adventure - he just wants to be left alone to mourn - but circumstances force him to realize that holding on to the past can be detrimental when it prevents you from moving forward.

There's a lot of stuff in Up that kids will love. There are funny animals, thrilling action scenes and, of course, absolutely gorgeous computer-animation. I don't want to talk about that. Instead, I want to point out that Up is the most mature Pixar production to date. The hero here is an old man. Stop and think about that for a second. An old man. Not a fish, or a toy, or a cute little robot, but an old man. A damaged old man, at that. Despite the inclusion of some intentionally goofy material like the talking dogs, this is really a story of loss and healing. Through the adventure Carl takes with Russell, he comes to understand that, while Ellie herself is gone, nothing can take away his memories of her. He doesn't need to carry on living as if she's still there. That's probably not even what she'd want for him anyway. Over the course of the film, Carl learns to let go, and the result is even more freeing than floating his house away in a mass of balloons.

Computer animated films take a major step forward with Up. Deep emotions like sorrow and grief are made as real as if we were watching live actors. The movie is also proof that animated movies can tackle deeper, more thoughtful subject matter in a way that rings true. They are not necessarily bound to frivolity. More than anything, this is what I cherish about Pixar; the projects they work on continually push boundaries, both visually and in terms of story. Don't be surprised if you get a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye as you watch Carl's tale.

A quick word on the visuals. The film is being shown in 3-D at theaters equipped to do so, which is about 1,500 of the over 3,700 screens playing it. I caught the 3-D version. The effect is dramatic during the scenes where Carl's house drifts among the clouds. While 3-D is the optimal format in which to see Up, don't sweat it if your local theater is only capable of showing the 2-D prints. This is a great film either way, and since it doesn't employ gimmicky 3-D tricks, it's not essential to your enjoyment.

Up is a pure ride, from start to finish. Funny, yes, but also a story that takes you on a meaningful journey. It's got genuine substance. There's enough thrown in here for the kiddies, but I think adults are going to love it even more. It's no surprise that Up was chosen to open the Cannes Film Festival. This is a work of art.

( out of four)

Up is rated PG for some peril and action. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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