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The Best of 2009: 'Up'



Confirming one critic's viewpoint, as well as mine, that we have entered the era of the geriatric hero, Up is one of the very first animated films that allows its main character to be over 60 years old and manages to keep him cool and relevant. The geriatric hero, with all that experience and baggage, first made its biggest and most effective appearance on film in 1969's True Grit featuring an overweight, alcoholic version of John Wayne, a part that won him an Oscar. It has taken years for True Grit's influence to take hold on an audience, and with the return of heroes hitting their later years like Indiana Jones, Rocky Balboa, John McClane, and even Rambo, it did not take long for Pixar to get an idea themselves. However, senior citizen Carl Fredricksen (voiced by the great Ed Asner) is not a hero, at least not at first.

We first meet him as a child dreaming of adventure. Of course, his real adventure would be meeting his other half, a girl named Ellie, who will stick with him for life. In what is probably one of the most beautiful montages with the saddest of endings, Carl is once again alone in his life. Carl and Ellie's house they built together has become all the memories Carl has ever had of her, and as far as themes are concerned, the house represents Ellie. In order to save himself from a retirement home, Carl sets himself toward his wife's childhood dream to consummate a promise. To animation fans, Carl's floating house is a nod to animation wizard Winsor McKay's flying house cartoons, and like McKay's material, Up is a superb trip into the imagination. The accidental tourist in this equation is a young boyscout, Russell, who is a great contrast to Carl. The adult has forgotten what it is like to enjoy himself, held back by the weight of his past, which comes literally in the form of a house towed behind him like a ball and chain. For a cartoon, this is not a light topic. It is extremely difficult to tell anyone to let go of something that is pulling at them.

Finalizing the main characters is a more seriously lost figure, Carl's childhood hero named Charles Muntz (voiced by legendary Christopher Plummer), caught up in a quest for a rare bird that has taken his whole life to hunt down (and even forced him to create devices to talk to his dogs and perhaps devices to prolong his life). Up's script does not make this apparent. In fact, these ideologies will probably go unnoticed in the first viewing. Up has a wacky sense of humor, a little less compared to The Emperor's New Groove, and little more than most Pixar films. It comes together as a wildly spirited and literally uplifting comedy that can appeal to every age with its light take on heavy questions. Is life about staying put or moving along?