It's pretty hard to imagine how Up, the latest addition to Pixar's uninterrupted line of certifiable classics, was, according to its creators, at one point "a mess." There's no doubt now that the apparently infallible studio has crafted yet another fine and distinct piece of film.
Up is fantastically imagined and realized, making it a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Like its predecessors, it also offers a megaton of heart, grounding itself in grief, loss and rediscovery in seemingly small, yet truly grand, ways.
The opening sequence, featuring one of the sweetest, loveliest romances in recent animated film memory, is a great example of this fine balance. We meet Carl Fredericksen (Ed Asner), not as the curmudgeonly and lonely septuagenarian that he is for the majority of the movie, but as a pudgy, be-goggled kid enraptured by a newsreel of his hero, adventurer and explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Through his life-long fancy for adventure, he meets his future wife, Ellie, who shares his dreams, and his outrage when Muntz's fantastical zoological discoveries are accused of being faked.
In a nearly wordless sequence, Ellie and Carl grow up, fall in love, marry and grow old together. They hold onto their shared dream of following Muntz to Paradise Falls by putting loose change in a jug. Their dream is raided for things like hospital bills, car repairs, a fallen tree and an always-empty nursery, though. The way this opening sequence captures the heartbreak and triumphs of life isn't often seen in animated family movies. Here, it's treated with immense grace and poetry that catches you off guard. The balance of animated whimsy and pure humanity is exceptionally deft and hits the spot a mere 15 minutes in.
Not to say that the rest of the movie goes downhill from there. Rather, as the title says, it goes up. Carl's life after Ellie passes is a lonely and reclusive one, until he decides the best way to honour her is to go to Paradise Falls. Equipped with innumerable helium balloons, he escapes a possible life in a retirement home as real estate developers close in on his house. Lifting off, he unknowingly brings on his quest a pudgy boy scout named Russell.
What they find in Paradise Falls is a delight to the eyes, heart and mind best left to be discovered in the theatre. Great sights and adventures, battles in the sky, beautiful scenes of Russell and Carl dragging the floating house by a garden hose and hilarious creatures, including talking dogs fitted with collars that translate their speech, are too wonderful for words.
Grander still -- and what really sticks -- is that underneath it all is a simple tale of an old man trying to find meaning in his life. This is truly the masterstroke of Pixar's latest masterpiece.