Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Pete Doctor
Starring: Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer
(PG, 89 min.)
"Be like a flower; turn you face to the sun." Kahlil Gibran
Up sours into the sky and box office heaven, showing once again that animated features are proving more relevant to today’s audiences than fleshed out mega-productions. And like the best of poetry, they “teach and delight.”
Unlike so many of the testosterone charged summer films that are purposely tailored for the 17 to 25-year-old male demographic, this one has broad appeal. Parents and grandparents will enjoy it as much as the sticky fingered tots inhaling the popcorn and gummy worms sitting next to them.
In fact, the opening segment is so bereft of the usual glitzy child centered fanfare that my almost five-year-old grandson wondered at first if we were at the right movie. But Pixar/Disney knows who has the car keys and is shelling out for the tickets, so they open by drawing in the child escorts.
The first eight minutes capture the life of Carl Fredricksen from innocent child to grumpy old man with Ed Asner channeling his Lou Grant curmudgeon best as the 78-year-old Carl. Telescoping through life with a swiftness those of us of a certain age can well appreciate, they capture the ages of man almost as beautifully as Shakespeare once did. One moment Carl is a shy youth seeking out adventure in a dilapidated “clubhouse” with a carrot topped lass named Ellie; the next they are exchanging vows and painting up the gingerbread ramshackle to make it their home.
The film doesn’t gloss over their regrets and loss, though they are handled with a light touch that will probably not disturb younger viewers too much. Ellie looks at clouds, sees visions of babies, and then fixes up a nursery. The next scene has her silently weeping in a doctor’s office. Similarly, a brief hospital shot fades to a quick view of a funeral wreath with the widower Carl looking every bit as dazed and confused as Richard’s Linklater’s slackers.
Through Carl we seen the dilemma of aging, a world changing inexplicably with all familiar signposts being yanked away—the widower defending his piece of turf with a vengeance not unlike Clint Eastwood’s in Gran Torino. And I’m not the only one to notice that like Clint, Carl is reluctantly relieved of his misery by a little Asian kid, though this one, rotund 8-year-old Russell (Jordan Nagai) doesn’t try to steal his car, but just wants to earn his scouting badge by “assisting the elderly.” Cantankerous Carl responds to this overture with all of Eastwood’s fury, minus the gun.
For Russell and the children in the audience there are delights galore, though we do learn that Russell’s obsession with scouting is fueled by an attempt to regain the attention of his father, who we gradually surmise is either dead or perhaps simply remarried. But what a wonderful trip this obsession takes him on.
A flying fantasy fulfilled -- almost. Who wouldn’t dream of floating above the clouds in a what looks like a gingerbread house boosted by an army of puffy pastel helium balloons? And then somehow making it all the way to South America, where you meet talking dogs and Toucan Sam come to life as a Technicolor Big Bird who follows you around like an overgrown duckling addicted to your chocolates. And so what if you name him Kevin only to find out it’s a she who has a nest of little chicks tucked away on a nearby cliff.
Of course, not all the talking dogs are such a delight. Dug, the pack outcast – the other dogs all have Greek letter designations to mark their places in the hierarchy -- is sweet if not too bright, but the menacing Alpha, even with his electronic voice collar malfunctioning and making him sound like Wanda Sykes is killer Doberman scary.
As in Bolt, the animation captures the confounding essence of dogginess. Remember the newly discovered joy when Bolt sticks his head out the car window to drink up the wind, his great slab of pink tongue whipping about in the breeze? The menagerie of canines in Up are equally convincing to dog lovers, with that tremendous blend of intelligence/obedience suddenly interrupted by uncontrollable doggie fixations, such as a tennis ball, a squirrel, or even the gourmet dinner they serve their guests.
In fact, the scene where the super canines, who have been trained to act as servants to the famous adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), prepare and serve a delicious dinner, only to steal the food from the plate in an irrepressible canine regression was the favorite of the 6 and under bunch with me. I might opt for the squirrel side look, an almost automatic response to the mere mention of the creature, complete with bulging eyes and rapt attention. (I actually had a dog like this who unfortunately ran up quite a tab with the squirrel widows and dependents association due to his fixation on these bushy-tailed rodents.) Others might prefer the dramatic reenactment of the cheesy Dogs Playing Poker Painting come to life.
The mood at the end of the film reflects its title, with one incredible adventure giving way to the more benign variety, the kinds of which life is made and given its meaning.
The sky is blue; the clouds are white and fluffy, and the balloon bouquet is taking off. Grab the string and fly away, too.
The illustrators for this latest Pixar creation travelled to Venezuela’s Canaima National Park to get a real world model for the film’s Paradise Falls.
It seems fitting, then, that our recipe selection should be from that beautiful South American country. Some thirty years ago I spend several weeks in Venezuela, which was at that time a real democracy with plenty of freedom. The people were wonderful, quite friendly, and warm.
As a teacher, I also had quite a few Venezuelan students, who were also delightful. In fact, my recipe for Sangria came from a Venezuelan friend who studied here in the US.
Today’s selection, Tisana is also a drink, one that can be made with or without the alcohol. Apparently, the alcohol free version is a favorite for children’s birthdays. So like our film, this drink is family friendly. Having a kids’ party? Use the 7-Up version (coincidentally appropriate for our film) for the kiddies and the bubbly for their parents.
Tisana, Venezuelan Party Drink
Tisana is a fabulous party drink from Venezuela. It is fruity and light and traditionally served without alcohol at children's birthday celebrations. It is easy to make ahead of time, and it keeps refrigerated in a pitcher. If making for children simply substitute wine with Sprite or 7-UP.
- 1 (750 ml) bottle dry sparkling wine, such as cava
- 4 cups passion fruit juice
- 1 cup club soda
- 14 1/3 cups sugar (I suggest Splenda, given this large amount)
- 1 small orange, sliced
- 1 small lemon, sliced
- 1 star fruit, sliced (If unavailable, use apple instead)
- In a punch bowl or pitcher combine the wine, passion fruit juice, club soda and sugar.
- Add the orange and lemon slices.
- Place in refrigerator for at least an hour.
- Serve over ice.
- Garnish glass with star fruit slices.
Recipe Source: Recipezaar.com