I first saw 50 minutes of Pixar's 'Up' [at the 2009] New York Comic Con, 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 Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Walt Disney Home Entertainment presents 'Up - 3D' as part of a 5-Disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + 3D combo pack. Those who purchased the 2D package in 2009 will be very familiar with much of the content, but the outside slipcover is quite different, featuring a chrome border and lenticular box art. On the Blu-ray 3D, there are no forced trailers or special features, but you will find a Maximize Your 3D Home Theater Guide under the Set Up menu. Disc Two is exactly the same as the 2009 Blu-ray, except there are a new set of trailers, including 'Monsters, Inc. - 3D' and 'Peter Pan' Diamond Edition (the footage looks excellent!).
The Digital Copy Disc includes instructions for watching the film in either iTunes or Windows Media Player. Lastly, a note about Region Locking. The packaging and 3D Blu-ray say the set is good for Regions A, B, and C, but both two dimensional Blu-rays (the Feature Film and Bonus Features) only have Region A printed on them.
Pixar films are demonstration gold in every format they tackle. First with DVD, then Blu-ray, and now, to no one's surprise, Blu-ray 3D. These computer generated movies -- with their lavish colors, detailed textures, and vivid animation -- probably sell more HD displays than any other demo material (well, maybe live sports help... a little). 'Up' debuted theatrically in 2D and 3D, but we've had to wait three years for the Blu-ray 3D. The original 2009 2D 'Up' Blu earned a full 5 star video score, and there's no question this MVC MPEG-4 encoded 3D disc matches, and in some ways even exceeds, that presentation.
Bold claim, no? Well, it's true. I've always enjoyed 'Up' on Blu-ray, and watch the film several times per year. It's colorful and crisp and shines on any display, but the movie has always felt a little flat when compared to my memory of seeing the film theatrically. In Blu-ray 3D, other than a few newsreel shots, the dimensionality is astounding. Despite the fact I know it's a cartoon, the film feels, somehow, more real. I can see into this beautifully rendered universe. In terms of the "3D effect", most of world expands behind the screen, but there are also a few great shots of faces and objects jutting out towards the audience. Cross-talk, for those with certain display technologies, was minimal.
I would also argue this 3D home experience is even better than my theatrical one. I first saw the film in 2D, but loved it so much, my wife and I went back to see it in 3D. Directly comparing them at the time, I recall not being too impressed with the 3D, which felt darker, muddier, than the 2D. It must have been a projector settings issue, because brightness levels match the 2D Blu perfectly. Colors pop and shadow details remain (there are a number of night sequences). In fact, it's just like watching the 2D version, but with a more immersive feel. In fact, pop back to the 2D version after watching the 3D and, while the film's still gorgeous, I personally missed the third dimension.
Anytime a Pixar movie arrives on home video, enthusiasts have especially high expectations. I'm happy to say 'Up - 3D' features another flawless, demo-worthy video presentation (in two OR three dimensions) and it alone makes this release a Must Own for 3D fans. Seriously, some of the best 3D I've seen, but then again, I'm about to review 'Finding Nemo', so who knows.
'UP' debuts on Blu-ray 3D with the same, impressive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio ES mix as its 2009 two dimensional counterpart. What Drew said back then holds true today in both 2D and 3D:
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.
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.
'Up' remains one of my favorite Pixar films. In fact, it just might be #1. The first 15 minutes suck you in and punch you in the heart before sending you off on a whimsical tale of adventure and friendship. This package is virtually identical to its 2009 counterpart, save for a few different trailers on the 2D Blu-ray and, of course, the Blu-ray 3D. 3D Video and Audio are high definition perfection, while the special features are still quite good. The question really is, is this double dip worthy? If you enjoy 3D at home, then by all means consider this a Must Own release. If you don't like 3D, then there's really no point. If you haven't yet seen, or purchased, 'Up' in high definition, then this movie and Blu-ray combo pack comes Highly Recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.