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Review: ‘Up’ Rises Above Its Flaws

"Up," the animated adventure of a lonely old man and a fatherless little boy on a treacherous, airborne trip, yanks at the heartstrings a bit too much. At times, it's treacly when it should be touching. Instead of allowing the audience to react naturally, it smacks upside the head with poignancy.

That's not to say this latest endeavor from the remarkable filmmakers at Pixar, the Emeryville, Calif., haven that produced "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E," is not worthy. It's a picture that can be enjoyed by parents and grandparents, kids and grandkids.

There's the brilliant animation of colors and creatures and a 9-year-old breakout star named Jordan Nagai. He delivers a fully rounded, voiced character as a Wilderness Explorer named Russell aching to earn his "assisting the elderly" merit badge in order to complete the requirements for the prized Senior Wilderness Explorer.

Director Pete Docter ("Monsters, Inc.") guided young Nagai (merely 7 years old at the time of production) to something memorable, hilarious and human. The preteen is more than a match for Ed Asner, 79, a fine actor (check him out in the current "Gigantic"), bellowing a bit too much in "Up" like his old, hard-nosed editor on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant." You almost expect to hear Moore's "Mr. Graaaaaaant!"

Asner's Carl Fredricksen is a widower battling to maintain the home shared for years with his wife in a neighborhood that's gentrifying. High rises and sushi joints are closing in. In a masterful slice of storytelling and filmmaking, a riveting montage depicts their life together — the young Carl, a shy kid with an interest in science, meeting Ellie, a hyper-energetic tomboy neighbor (voiced by Docter's daughter) who jabbers incessantly. There's their courtship, wedding, house building, a doctor's visit in which they're told there'd be no children.

It was a modest life with Carl peddling balloons. Over the years, they shared admiration for a hero named Charles Muntz — his famous line, "Adventure is out there." Now, out there living in the jungle is a not very heroic Muntz voiced by Christopher Plummer.

Meanwhile, inadvertently injuring a construction worker, Carl is taken to court, forced to give up his home and ordered to Shady Oaks, a retirement facility. Not so fast. Instead, he ties thousands of balloons to his ol' house and lifts it into the clouds. Destination: a place he and Ellie dreamed of visiting in South America near the world's largest waterfall. Little does Carl suspect that Russell, still after that badge, is a stowaway, hiding on the porch.

The ascension of the mammoth, multicolored balloons bouquet carrying Carl's place over the city is awesome, as Russell might put it. Director Docter said the scene was inspired by the old Fifth Dimension tune with the lyric: Up, up and away in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon.

Along the way, Carl and Russell meet up with a rare, flightless, 13-foot-tall bird named Kevin that Muntz is seeking to capture. There's Muntz's pack of sometimes-vicious dogs and a friendly one named Dug. It is a surprise that with all the respect the film has for older people, there are still unfortunate references to dentures and bran flakes and lines like, "He smells of prunes." That's a stereotype that should've been avoided.

But listen closely to Russell telling Carl how much he misses his dad, "like just sitting on the curb, I counting the blue cars, he counting the red ones. It's the boring stuff I remember the most." It's moments like those you'll remember most about "Up."

Preceding "Up" is the animated short "Partly Cloudy" that focuses on a flock of storks dealing with the delivery of babies, human and animal.


"Up." Rated: PG. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. 3 stars.

"Partly Cloudy," an animated short, precedes "Up." 4 stars.

To find out more about Lee Grant and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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