Up (2009)

Rated: PG for some peril and action.
Length: 96 minutes
Grade: CB+BC=B-
Budget: $175 million
Box Office: $595 million (293 U.S., 214 Intl., 88 DVD)

Written by: Pete Docter (WALL-E, Monster’s Inc., Toy Story 1+2), Bob Peterson (Ratatouille, Finding Nemo), and Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent).
Directed by: Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and Bob Peterson (First Movie)
Starring the voices of: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger, and David Kaye.

After a lifelong delay in fulfilling their dreams of adventure, an elderly man decides to fly his house to South America via helium balloons in honor of his recently deceased wife. Along the way, he encounters a portly wilderness explorer, an overly needy dog, a strange mythical bird, and many adventures.

Entertainment Value: C
First the good stuff. This is Pixar, and Pixar never fails completely. The animation is amazing, the voice work is outstanding, and the comic timing is impeccable, especially their new trademark of comedy without dialogue like from WALL-E. My kids of course love it, which means I’ve seen it many times already in bits and pieces myself. But in this case, the characters, animation, and comedy (even when added to the heart-strings they yank on in the excellent opening sequence) aren’t enough to cover over a crazy plot built around an absurd premise: a balloon flying house. I could have overlooked this as the admission price to the plot, but they just kept shoving the impossibility of the physics in my face again and again. I know this seems like a petty thing to fixate on, and I’m sure it didn’t bother everyone. But since it was the pretext for half the events in the movie, I had trouble over and over with it. For instance, how didn’t the house lift-off as soon as the balloons were filled rather than at the desired moment? How did he keep a balloon cluster twenty times the volume of his house hidden either inside or right behind his house? How does one fly to South America via balloon house overnight? How does an elderly man get enough grip on the ground to hold that house from dragging him over a ledge? Why, oh why, didn’t he keep a few canisters of compressed air to reinflate more balloons later? Still, for those who can ignore such issues (like all children, I suspect), I’m sure it’s great fun.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A
There are a couple of difficult moments in the very beginning where a woman is implied to have been discovered infertile and possibly having lost a baby and she later dies. A man falls to his death (out of sight), and several scenes of what the MPAA calls “peril” occur. But for the most part, this is just barely not a G movie. Both of our young boys watched it, and Ethan was only slightly bothered by the dogs being scary and now loves the movie.
Significant Content: B Always be sure you’re pursuing the most important objectives. Heroes don’t always turn out to be noble people. Corporations and land developers are evil. Society really takes advantage of the elderly in the name of helping them. When you invest your life in fame and reputation, you’ll do anything to get it back if you feel it’s been unjustly taken from you. Being an explorer is fun, but not usually what it seems like in books and movies. Adventure is good, but ordinary life is also good.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Obviously the animation is outstanding. Also, you have to give Pixar tremendous credit for having mastered the art of non-dialogue storytelling and comedy. But I don’t think there’s a ton worth talking about here. So thought value is a little scarce.

Discussion Questions:
~This movie seems to want us to believe that the most significant thing in Mr. Fredricksen’s life was the big adventure he took to Paradise Falls. Looking over the story about his life and marriage to Ellie, do you believe this is true? If he had died when she did, would his life really have been left unfulfilled? Do you think this emphasis on the extraordinary and exotic as opposed to the regular and calm is healthy? Is it a common idea in our society?
~Russell talks about sharing the boring moments with his dad and that those are actually the most important. What “boring” parts of life are important to you or to your kids?
~The difference between adventure as we imagine it and exploring in real life becomes somewhat clear in this movie. Do you think it’s good or bad for kids to dream of adventure? Does real life usually live up to that, even when that real life includes actual exploring?
~Russell is trying to get a merit badge for helping the elderly, but he winds up imposing on Mr. Fredricksen to get it. How often are our efforts to help other people really impositions upon them? Did Fredericksen need help? By the end of the movie, would you say Russell actually helped him in any way?
~Muntz seems to want the bird as a bit of proof to earn back his reputation, Russell just loves the bird as his friend. What do these different motivations tell us about their characters? What is the difference between a desire, a dream, and an idol? In what ways does Fredericksen’s goal start out as an idol to him? How does this change?
~This movie portrays developers as evil capitalists and elderly people as noble (though crotchety) obstacles to progress. How fair are either of these stereotypes?
~Even if Muntz wasn’t believed about the bird, can you think of any reason he wouldn’t have returned to civilization to show them the genius of his talking dog collar? What do you think dogs would say if they had such a collar?
~If you are an adult who has engaged in the longstanding cultural practice of sending newbies snipe hunting, what do you think of the exposure of this tradition in a movie like this? Do you feel betrayed by the people at Pixar, or do you feel this was an appropriate exploitation of a well-known cultural ritual?
~Were you impeded in enjoying this movie by any of the plausibility problems with the balloons or with the age of Muntz compared to Fredricksen? What does it say about people who are bothered by those things? What about those who are not?

Overall Grade: B-
Kids will love it. I can’t predict parental reaction. I only know that I fell asleep for 20 minutes during the first time through and even almost did so again when I diligently tried to rewatch the part I had missed. Some parts, especially the opening, are brilliant. After that, only the sometimes quite funny jokes make it worthwhile.

The rental DVD (from Blockbuster at least) does not have the main menu and access to special features standard in Pixar DVDs. Instead, it plays in a continuous loop. If you intend to watch it more than once or want the extras, this is one case where buying the DVD makes good sense. Also, this seems to be part of Disney’s practice of encouraging purchases by discouraging rentals as much as possible. That’s why your video store seems to always be out of such a popular movie. Disney won’t release more copies for rental, knowing this irritation will drive up purchases.

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