Note: This post will contain minor story and character spoilers for the movie Up, so read at your own risk.
Yesterday, Cinematical was lucky enough to be among a few selected press outlets who were invited to preview 45 minutes of the new Pixar film, Up, followed by a Q&A with Up director Pete Docter (Monsters Inc.) and producer Jonas Rivera. Up is only the second Pixar film (behind The Incredibles) to feature humans as the main characters, although as the flick moves along it becomes more of an ensemble with dogs and giant birds and God knows what else (remember, we only watched 45 minutes). And like WALL-E, Up also feels like two separate films -- with the first part serving as set up and backstory, while the second part jumps right into a dazzling action-adventure on the top of a mountain in South America.
Ed Asner absolutely shines as the grumpy old voice of Carl Fredricksen, a 78-year-old balloon salesman who's always craved a little adventure, but life just got in the way. Now, as his final years slowly creep by, Carl's found himself alone, in the one house he's always shared with his wife Ellie ... until she passed away. Unfortunately, though, the house -- which used to sit on a nice tree-lined neighborhood block -- is now part of a construction zone, with Carl being the only one who refuses to move. When an accident with one of the construction workers leads to the authorities placing Carl in a retirement home, the ballsy old man uses his last 24 hours of freedom to tie thousands of balloons to his fireplace, which, of course, hoist the house off the ground and up into the sky. With help from his makeshift wings and steering mechanism, Carl heads south toward South America ... to the place he and Ellie had always dreamed of visiting (and one day retiring): Paradise Falls.
But there's one small problem ... and it comes in the form of the chubby, overly optimistic fast-talking 9-year-old (Jordan Nagai, in a scene-stealing performance) who stowed away on the porch. Russell's a dedicated Wilderness Explorer who only needs one more patch (an assisting the elderly patch) in order to become a senior Wilderness Explorer. Of course, he sees Carl as the ticket to that last patch, but Carl sees Russell as just another thorn in his side. But like it or not, the two are now partners (and another classic Pixar odd couple who have trouble communicating) on their way to South America ... where, eventually, they'll find themselves on yet another fantastical Pixar adventure full of thrills, chills, laughter and heartbreak.
Though we watched the preview with a temp score and without a final shine on the animation, Up still looked (and felt) quite charming. What's sure to be one of the most talked-about bits arrives early on in the form of what is perhaps Pixar's most adult-like montage, sans dialogue, as we travel throughout Carl's life. In the Q&A with Docter and Rivera following the footage, they admitted that it was important to stick that intense, fairly grown-up montage at the beginning of the film so that we immediately sympathize and feel something for our jaded main character. It reminded me a little of WALL-E, and how five minutes into that film -- with barely any dialogue at all -- we've already fallen hard for this little robot from the future. He may be old and grumpy, but trust me when I say Carl Fredricksen is bound to go down as one of (if not) the most human and sincere Pixar characters ever created.
Here are a few highlights from the Doctor/Rivera Q&A:
- They see Carl as a cross between Spencer Tracy, Walter Matthau and your grandfather.
- This is the first time in Pixar's history that this much footage has been assembled together this early.
- They've been working on Up for five years.
- John Ratzenberger once again voices a character (he's voiced a character in every Pixar film), and this time he's playing a construction worker.
- For Up, Docter was inspired by the films of Hayao Miyazaki, as well the Muppets and old Disney movies like Dumbo and Peter Pan. And while there are definite parallels to The Wizard of Oz, they've actually gone out of their way to not make it too much like that film.
- Up will be the first Pixar film projected in Disney Digital 3D.
- As far as a Monsters Inc. sequel goes, they'll only make one if they can "come up with a story that needs to be told."
- The running time for Up will be a little over 87 minutes.