- Street Date:
- November 10th, 2009
- Reviewed by:
- Drew Taylor
- Review Date: 1
- October 23rd, 2009
- Movie Release Year:
- Disney/Buena Vista
- 96 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated PG
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
I first saw 50 minutes of Pixar's 'Up' back at New York Comic Con this February, and was intrigued and impressed, but also slightly worried. That chunk of the Pete Docter movie was just so filled with stuff - a wordless prologue that set up the relationship between Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) and the love of his life, Ellie, from childhood to old age (novelistic to be sure); a house lifted high into the air by billions of balloons; a talking dog named Dug (voiced by co-director Bob Peterson); and a jungle landscape as alien as the moon, populated by an imaginary nine-foot-tall flightless bird. It was funny, for sure, and at times achingly beautiful, but where, exactly, was this going to go? And was it going to coalesce into a solidified whole?
Well, I should have put those fears aside. 'Up' is easily one of the best movies of 2009, a deeply affecting triumph of imagination and heart. It soars.
Without giving too much away, the movie really takes off after the 50 minutes of set up I saw at Comic Con. After Carl gets his house down to that South American jungle, and he and his Wilderness Explorer sidekick Russell (Jordan Nagai) befriend the talking dog and Day-Glo-colored bird, things rocket from one hair raising action set piece to the other, showcasing Pixar's ability to up the ante in a way reminiscent of Robert Zemeckis in his heyday - mixing physical comedy gags with real danger. Also, in that second half of the movie we get introduced to Charls Muntz, the villainous former adventurer (and now obsessed monster hunter) played with great gusto by Christopher Plummer.
The movie is beautiful looking, for sure, taking 'The Incredibles' route of eschewing reality for a kind of streamlined stylization - Carl is absurdly blocky, while Russell is more or less an egg (this is part of the reason why Kevin, the bird, loves him so much). When the house takes flight, your jaw will drop. It's simple, yes, but no less powerful. They've tapped into a kind of gentle Miyazakian fantasy. And even though 'Up' was presented in 3-D theatrically, losing that extra dimension will not dull the movie's visceral oomph in the slightest.
Docter's last movie for the studio, 2001's 'Monsters, Inc.', wasn't the most refined looking Pixar movie and it stretched the studio's buddy comedy template to the breaking point, but Docter's sense of comedic rhythm was truly noteworthy. Here, his evolution as a filmmaker is a profound one - not only does he keep up his distinction as being Pixar's funniest director (in truth this may be Pixar's funniest film yet), but his directorial skills have been heightened too. He directs the action sequences and comedic moments with subtlety and finesse, making you care about both deeply, and the moments of tragedy enrich every funny beat with true pathos.
It should also be noted that Docter got a great score out of Michael Giacchino, fast becoming one of cinema's greatest composers. Like the rest of the film, Giacchino handles the music with a light touch, adding just the right amount of melancholy to the largely buoyant tale. It's a testament to the composer's extremely versatile talent that he could provide the epic orchestral bombast to 'Star Trek' and turn around and deliver a simple score as emotionally resonant as this.
And that's what's really great about "Up" - how sweet it is. Not saccharine, mind you, or cloying (unlike recent kiddie fare like 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian'), but genuinely sweet. Pixar has never been interested in "edgy" humor or a pop culture references galore (like another animation house), but instead they're deeply concerned with telling a great story. And they do that here. Those that were turned off by the somewhat biting, bleak satirical nature of last year's 'WALL•E' will walk away refreshed (it also lacks that film's restless experimentalism, but that's okay - 'Up' is plenty weird).
In conclusion: Pixar has done it again. Pete Docter and Bob Peterson's film is easily one of the best, most accomplished, and most beautiful movies of the year. It's equal parts slapstick comedy, ode to the lost magic of flight, old age drama, and breathless action adventure. And it juggles all of these elements with a fearlessness and dexterity that will leave your jaw on the floor.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
What else is there to say about Pixar home video transfers? This baby is perfect. The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1) is flawless. It was just like watching it digitally projected on the big screen. Colors are vibrant, flesh tones look good, shadows and darkness are inky black, motion is stellar, depth is amazing, detail extraordinary - I'm running out of adjectives!
This is just one of the best pictures you're ever going to see on Blu-ray - just solid and beautiful the entire time. Period. And unlike the recently released 'Monsters vs. Aliens' (which was also released in 3-D), 'Up' isn't riddled with gimmicky 3-D effects (no one is rolling a yoyo towards the camera or anything like that). It just looks deep and rich and it doesn't matter how many actual dimensions that takes up.
The gorgeousness of the image never distracts from the emotional underpinnings of the story, either. Kevin's feathers never dazzle you to the point that you forget about what's going on or why these characters are doing what they're doing. It's a tough balancing act, but Pixar has pulled it off marvelously. The day I receieved my review copy of 'Up,' I had just seen 'Toy Story' and 'Toy Story 2' in 3-D at the theater, and just to see how far they’ve come from their first movie ('Toy Story') to up, is amazing. I mean, texture and all that technical stuff have come a long way, yes, but I was more impressed with how the characters move and how their faces work; the emotional stuff.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Just as impressive is the Master Audio 5.1 DTS-HD audio track here. I mean it. Like everything else about this disc, it's just stunning. Atmosphere and ambience are always present, with the surround sound getting a vigorous workout, not just in the more action packed sequences, but in the way that the house breathes and groans once its lifted in the air, or the individualized balloons bumping into one another and letting out that brief squeak. I mean, it's just amazing. The amount of nuance is incredible.
On the special features on the disc, they talk about how the mix for this was pared down. They wanted to focus on the story, characters, and theme to the point where a lot of the extraneous noise, that you could have put in at all points, would have taken away from the emotional experience. So you don't hear the balloons at every point in the journey, but when you need to, they're there.
Simple things like a window shattering just sound amazing, and not overwhelming, either. Dialogue is perfect, and everything is well prioritized in the mix. The action sequences are absolutely phenomenal and dwarf the biggest Hollywood action spectacle. Michael Giacchino's score, which has already been praised in this review, sounds even better. It's just the score of the year, hands down, and in this mix sounds lovelier than ever.
Other audio options included are a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track, an English DTS-HD 2.0 track (a nice option, if I do say so myself), and English Descriptive Video Service 2.0. There are also subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
I just have to give it up to Pixar at this point for their Blu-rays. I remember the double disc 'Bug's Life' being one of the first really amazing DVDs, and here they are again, upping the ante with the new format. Just great. This two-disc set is just awe inspiring. The only thing it's really missing is some kind of promotional art gallery, showcasing the different sketches and posters and whatnot. Also, I'd like to praise the ease and elegance of the menu design - everything is really fluid and easy to navigate. Also worth noting is that this disc is Region "A" locked.
In addition to the Blu-ray, the four disc set also comes with a DVD of the film and a digital copy.
- Party Cloudy (HD, 5:49) This charming animated short, directed by Pete Sohn (who served as inspiration for rambunctious Wilderness Explorer Russell), we see how babies are made - by a bunch of cute cloud spirits. They make all sorts of babies - but it seems that one unfortunate cloud can only produce scary, sharp, stingy creatures. This gives his stork a lot of grief (since he's the one that has to carry the babies down to earth), and at the center of this short is the relationship between the cloud and the stork. Pixar has honed the amount of time it takes for you to fall in love with a character to around 30 seconds.
- Dug's Special Mission (HD, 4:42) This is an all new animated short that follows talking dog Dug, right before he meets up with Carl and Russell. I really don't want to give away anything else, but this might be the best new-short-for-home-video since "Jack Jack Attack" from 'The Incredibles.'
- Adventure is Out There! (HD, 22:18) A lot of times on these Pixar discs, they'll talk about the research trip they went on to get information for a project. Like the brief trip the 'Ratatouille' gang spent racing around Paris trying to soak up the atmosphere. But this is the first time I've seen an honest-to-god documentary solely about one of these research expeditions, and the results are truly spectacular. They went down to the South American jungles with a guy named Adrian Warren, who has written and documented these plateau-type mountains you see in the film. Very few humans have ever set foot on the top of the mountain, so it was a real coup for a half dozen or so animators, technical guys, and the film's directors, to get to do it. (Most of them talk about how otherworldly it was.) This documentary mixes footage they actually shot of the journey, with interviews with the guys that went down there, and it's just spellbinding.
- The Many Endings of Muntz (HD, 4:56) The villain Muntz was a real tough nut to crack. I remember a friend of mine was talking to somebody involved with Pixar, and they were telling him that they struggled with the Muntz character until the last possible minute. This brief but fascinating documentary showcases some of the possible deaths of Muntz, and how director Pete Docter had a fundamental opposition to even having a villain in the movie, but felt it necessary in a thematic context. (Also, without Muntz, you wouldn't have had a hilarious old man fight.) One of the best bits in here is a kind of 'Shining'-esque moment where Muntz gets lost in a labyrinth of rock formations; chilling stuff. (I'll talk more about this in a minute.)
- Documentaries About 45 minutes worth of documentaries reside under the simple heading of "Documentaries." Each one is essential viewing. Here is where you will find the following: Geriatric Hero (HD, 6:24), in which the various animators and behind-the-scenes elves talk about going to an old folks home and studying the wrinkles and pores of old people. They also talk about the thematic, emotional resonance of old age, and co-director Bob Peterson talks about a video he took of his grandparents' house in the early 1990's, and how they drew from that heavily. Wonderful stuff. Canine Companions (HD, 8:26) showcases the amount of study that went into crafting the dogs in the film - both the loveable Dug, and the villainous pack. There are interviews with prominent dog behaviorist Ian Dunbar, and footage of lectures he gave the Pixar animation crew about dog psychology. Russell: Wilderness Explorer (HD, 6) is all about the evolution of Russell, both from a design point and from a character point of view. A lot of it focuses on the similarities between Russell and animator Pete Sohn, who also provided Russell's voice on the scratch track (he's the voice of Emile in 'Ratatouille'). Our Flightless Friend Kevin (HD, 5:04) is about the achingly painful process of figuring out what, exactly, Kevin is, from a biological standpoint but (again) from a thematic one. At one point he was a kind of mythological bird god who breathed fire, in another incarnation his feathers were made out of gold, in yet another, he was a missing link between man and dinosaur. But what they settled on was an ostrich-like bird with a beautiful, iridescent coat of feathers. It shows the animators interacting with live ostriches, which is also very amusing. It's weird that they don't mention the innate power of having a flightless bird be central to a story about the imaginative power of air travel, but I guess they left it to geeks like me to discuss. Homemakers of Pixar (HD, 4:38) is all about bringing Carl's home to life. They actually made a perfect model of Carl's house and photographed it with different light sources, took it outside and put it up to the sky, and it's an amazingly real, tactile version of the animated house. Balloons and Flight (HD, 6:25) talks about the physics of the balloons, and this was probably the least interesting because it was the most technical based. Still, I'd recommend watching it. Lastly, there's Composing for Characters (HD, 7:37) which, if you bought the film's score on iTunes, you've already seen. Still, I hadn't seen it for a while and it was amazing. This is mostly about Michael Giacchino's amazing score, and I tell you what, just listening to him play the main theme on a piano, tears welled up. It's really that great.
- Alternate Scene: Married Life (HD, 9:13) This is a really great piece. The first half talks about the power and importance of the opening "Married Life" sequence, which charts the marriage of Ellie and Carl, wordlessly (it was inspired by Pete Docter looking at old 16 mm footage from his childhood and being taken aback by how much more power there was without sound). This bit of the movie is one of just incredible power, and to have something like a miscarriage appear in the opening of a children's film is ballsy and truly unique. So they talk about how that all came together, and then they show us, via storyboards, an earlier draft of the same sequence. (With Michael Giacchino's music, I could have watched a werewolf attacking a nun and found it moving.) The differences are interesting - this one is way longer and has some bizarre subplot about a Muntz museum opening up in Carl and Ellie's town, complete with a display of a bird that looks as lot like Kevin. The finished product is much better, but this, like virtually every other special feature, needs to be seen.
- 'Up' Promo Montage (HD, 6) I don't know if this stuff was shown on the Disney Channel or on the internet or what, but it's these brief character moments, like Kevin holding onto a bunch of balloons and floating upwards, or Russell trying to set a trap. All of them were animated by Pixar and look gorgeous and are brief and hilarious and really satisfying. They are so short I’m not sure where they would fit, exactly, but I loved watching this little reel. Great stuff.
- Worldwide Trailers This is sort of weird. For one, they don't have the charming teaser trailer (you can pop in your 'Wall-E' Blu-ray for that one), and because, well, even though it says 'Worldwide Trailers,' it's really just the two theatrical trailers (which are presented in HD and run 1:48 and 2:29 respectively). Oh well.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
There are a couple of HD exclusives on here! Hurrah!
- Cinexplore with Pete Docter and Bob Peterson This is a commentary track with a wonderful array of visual aid. While 'Wall-E's' disc had TWO commentary tracks, one with a bunch of giggling geeky animators, this has one. This is a slight disappointment, as the geek track was one of the highlights of that disc. But this isn't the same kind of movie, where some tech nerd can shout out about how a piece of debris was modeled after something from 'Aliens.' The track we are given is truly wonderful - just as warm and weird and heartfelt as the movie. You can tell these two guys love each other and had a wonderful professional relationship on this movie, and the insight and anecdotes they share are priceless. Even though it covers some of the same ground that you see in the various documentaries, this is a must-listen track, and the artwork that appears on screen as they discuss things is perfectly timed and absolutely illuminating. Wonderfully done.
- Global Guardian Board Game This is a board game that requires connecting to BD-Live (I love how BD-Live on Disney titles is in the squiggly Disney font). I played this for a couple of seconds and seems more interesting for the knee-high-to-a-grasshopper set.
I found an Easter egg! Huzzah!
- The Egg (HD, 1:57) If you hit the 'left' button on your remote at the main menu of Disc 1, you will see an absolutely fascinating mini-documentary called, appropriately, 'The Egg.' It's all about Muntz and his original motivation for tracking Kevin - that Kevin's eggs would provide him with a serum for eternal youthfulness. They show storyboards of a great scene where Carl and Russell meet Muntz and Muntz is still 30 years old. They said they cut it because it didn't match, thematically, with Carl's journey. Since Carl's journey wasn't about staying young but rather holding onto the past, Muntz's motivation was altered, and we were robbed of a scene where it shows him transforming from old age to young man and back again. Damn.
This is, if not the single greatest Blu-ray release of the year thus far, then one of the greatest Blu-ray releases of the year. I mean, 'Up' has it all - superb AV, a wonderful host of extras in HD, some nice exclusives, and not to mention one of the best films of the year, a profoundly moving comic fantasy that you will revisit over and over and over again. This is one that grandparents and young tykes can watch together, with the same amount of enjoyment. 'Up' is a truly wonderful film and this is a release that lives up to that accomplishment. It's a must own for sure.
- 4-Disc Set
- BD/DVD Combo
- Digital Copy
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- English DTS-HD 2.0
- English Descriptive Video Service 2.0
- English for the hearing impaired
- Cinexplore with Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
- Adventure is Out There!
- Dug's Special Mission
- The Many Endings of Muntz
- DVD of film
- Digital Copy
- The Egg
- Russell: Wilderness Explorer
- Geriatric Hero
- Canine Companions
- Alternate Scene: Married Life
- Homemakers of Pixar
- Our Giant, Flightless Friend Kevin
- Balloons and Flight
- Composing for Characters
- Worldwide Trailers
- Up Promo Montage
- Global Guardian Board Game
- Partly Cloudy animated short
- Theatrical trailer #2
- Theatrical trailer #3