The beauty of Pixar films is that they rarely skim the shallow surface of similar animated films. Instead, they dive deep past the shallow surface, and somehow reach the into the hearts and minds of kids and adults. Intelligence is a rare commodity where children are concerned. They like to feed the kids junk, make them laugh, gross them out, and spit them back out onto the street satisfied.
But Pixar has always taken it to an entirely different level. With their latest, Up, they do not disappoint. This time the stranger in a strange land is an elderly man who’s lost his beloved wife and is being forced out of his home because of nearby construction. In a beautiful, agonizing, nearly silent montage, we see his entire marriage played out. Once she’s gone, everything he cared about is gone too.
Rather than let his house be torn down, he ties it to hundreds and hundreds of balloons, taking it up and up and away, off to a fantasy his wife once made him promise he’d fulfill. He’s to take their house and place it atop a gigantic waterfall in South America. Along the way, the old man hooks up with an eager, lonely outdoors club kid who hitches a ride when the house takes flight.
From there, Up is one amazement after another. Just when you think you have the story figured out, out pops an entire world and the whole story comes alive again. Even though we all know how Pixar does things, it is still an utter delight when they unfurl worlds the way they do. In Finding Nemo, it’s an entire ocean of creatures. In Wall-E there is a whole spaceship full of robots and people and gadgets. And now, in Up there are exotic birds and funny talking dogs.
If you have any heart in you at all, Up will make you sob for an hour straight. You might end up with a kleenex permanently attached to your eyes and nose. There is something so utterly heartbreaking about the group of misfits who find themselves rescuing one another.
One of the best things about it are the talking dogs. There seems an endless supply of dogs jokes to be had – jokes about big dogs, little dogs, sheepishly nice dogs, angry dogs – and of course, they are really just like us, aren’t they? When they are bad they are forced to wear the “cone of shame,” which is one of those cones vets put on dogs to prevent them from chewing in places they shouldn’t.
It’s one of the best films of the year even though the rest of the films haven’t been out yet. Written by Bob Peterson, who co-directed, along with Pete Doctor, Up doesn’t quite topple Wall-E as the best Pixar of all time but it comes pretty close. It is, perhaps, more generally appealing than either Wall-E or Ratatouille, two of the studio’s best films.
But this isn’t really about what film is best. It’s about how great the studio and its array of talent have been over the past decades, how they make the best films any studio is putting out lately, animated or not.