In the first twenty minutes, we get the life story of Carl and Ellie Fredericksen; they meet as children, marry, fail to have children but grow old together until Ellie dies and Carl is left a curmudgeonly old widower in their rickety wooden house, overwhelmed by modernity and threatened by developers. It’s a twenty-minute, heartfelt masterpiece. It’s a first act that stays with you for the rest of the movie, the emotional heart, worthy of every award every invented…
In Act Two, defying the developers, retired balloon salesman Carl ties thousands of balloons to his home and floats away on a lifelong ambition to explore the wilds of South America; with an accidental stowaway, lonely boy-scout Russell. Against the odds, they make it South to some remarkable discoveries; extinct big bird, Kevin, a talking dog named Dug and long-lost explorer Charles Muntz, replete with airship and vicious guard dogs.
It is a mark of Pixar’s genius (not a word lightly used) that they make an improbable adventure with an irascible senior citizen and a boyscout reject at its centre. Instead of playing safe after every hit movie, they seem to be more keen to push the boundaries. Rather than remake The Goonies or Explorers or Jungle Book, with easy hooks for child audiences, Pixar seems resolved to find higher-concepts and more off-the-wall characters to fill their animations.
The animation is rendered with love and attention to detail. Every frame looks beautiful, every shot carefully considered, even when the pace picks up and it turns from whimsical travelogue (echoing Albert Lamorisse’s Red Balloon) into a mad action movie to rate alongside Indiana Jones and The Lost World.
Curmudgeonly Carl and rotund Russell make a classic odd couple, adrift with no ties(!) in an alien, technicolour landscape, drawn together in peril as the demented Lindhberghian explorer Muntz (Christopher Plummer) hunts down first the elusive bird Kevin and later, the two of them. In the end it’s all about the characters, just as it was in Wall-E. As Muntz descends from hero to villain, Carl and Russell rise, Carl finally becoming the adventurer he dreamed of in his youth. Just as in Wall-E when you see the premise of the characters and say to yourself “this will never work, what were they thinking,” within minutes, creators Docter and Peterson have you emotionally invested.
The silent-clown antics of the Buster Keaton and Roadrunner-inspired great bird Kevin apply the slapstick to the guard dogs, while super friendly, failed guard-dog named Dug arrives wearing a fancy collar that translates his thoughts into English. Voiced by John Ratzenburger, Dug deserves a film all to himself, his scattergun canine brain tumbling impulsively through happy thoughts, frequently interrupted by shouts of “squirrel!”
Carl, voiced by Ed Asner, becomes a somewhat sprightly Dr. Jones in the climactic aerial sequences, duelling the even older megalomaniac, Basil Rathbone-style villain Muntz. We don’t care. This is one of the great cartoon adventures of all time and an even better movie than Monsters Inc. RC
Running time: 1 hr. 29 min.
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation, Kids & Family, Comedy
Directed by: Pete Docter , Bob Peterson
Written by: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
Released: Oct 9, 2009
US Box Office: £293.0M
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures