Up might have been called Down. It’s like that, really, more in line with Pixar’s post-apocalyptic Wall-E than with its delightful Ratatouille. Though I arrived late to a recent screening, the protagonist is Carl (voiced by Ed Asner), an old widower who ties balloons to his house and lifts off—with a stowaway on board. The trailer looked fine, but what Disney did not show is that the old coot’s up for assault and battery and he’s in for a grim future. There is adventure, as the pair head for an exotic locale, but much is missing from this movie, starting with a sense of wonder.
Aside from being predictable, ordinary and modern (in the worst sense), Up lacks the chemistry to pull off its theme that letting go beats lifting off as a means of acting in accordance with reality. The obese kid, who lacks personality, and crusty Carl are as lovable as a pair of dirty, old shoelaces—and about as involving. They’re not bad, and they have their moments. But the script is cynical, jokey and it borders on absurdism—balloons are gussied up offscreen overnight, one thunderstorm and they’re instantly in South America, an aviator villain trains flying ace dogs—all of which chokes character development and undercuts the man/boy relationship. To top it off, the poor old man’s future is pretty bleak. His big moment centers upon saving a bird, which as a climax is as exciting as it sounds, and Up suffers from these tired platitudes throughout. Instead of being a lone man who stands against, say, seizure of his property, he simply seems to stand in the way of progress because he doesn’t know any better and Up‘s idea of uplifting is saving an endangered animal or mentoring a child. Fine, but more appropriate for a Sierra Club film or a piece of National Service propaganda than for a studio that used to punch out clever, touching little animated gems. Incidentally, its ultimate point that material possessions do not matter is, I think, an absolute and total lie. Losing a loved one often means treasuring a cherished piece of private property for its meaning and memory.
An interesting postscript came across my desk: an Up publicity stunt went awry up in Seattle, Washington. The whole incident is a sort of real-life demonstration of why the otherwise innocuous movie does not fly.