While Pixar has always generated richly imaginative stories, the production house has taken an interesting turn in recent years, with films that strike me as even more mature and willing to deal further with the themes and lessons of adulthood. The films still entertain both children and adults, but films like "Ratatouille" and "Up" (and to some degree "Wall-E" operate on two levels, managing to speak a little more directly than in the past to adults while still offering memorable entertainment that will entertain the younger crowd.
"Up" is the latest effort from directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. The film focuses on Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner, terrific), an old man whose life with his wife is revealed in what has to be one of the most emotional few minutes worth of film I've seen in quite some time. Fast forward to today, where Carl has seen civilization build up around what was once pure and pristine. He is pestered to get out of his house by the nearby developer who wants the land.
One day, Russell decides to leave - literally, by tying thousands of helium balloons (10,297 to be exact) to his house - taking inspiration from the adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), whose stories about adventures to South America Carl used to watch on newsreels as a kid. When Muntz's discoveries were discredited by the scientific community, a dismayed Muntz set off for South America - and now Carl is making the same journey to Paradise Falls that Muntz did. The only problem? He's brought an unintentional guest with him - chatty Wilderness Scout Russell (Jordan Nagai).
Carl does manage to get to Paradise Falls, but what he finds there I'll leave to the imagination instead of spoiling it. Speaking of imagination, the film is overflowing with it, from the richly compelling story to the wild creatures and astonishingly beautiful scenery. The picture also runs the range of emotions with remarkable skill, delivering moments of remarkable sadness (and this is a film that is almost painfully sad at times - if you don't bawl at least once there's something wrong with you) and big laughs. Docter and co-director Bob Patterson also manage some exciting and graceful moments of action, as well.
Additionally, "Up" offers a marvelous set of voice actors, as well. Asner delivers a sweet, funny and touching effort (one that goes beyond the cliche grouchy old man) that shows there really wasn't a better choice for the role. Nagai is charming without being irritating, as the sort of kid sidekick role could quite easily be. Not surprisingly, the animation somehow has managed to improve (the picture shows an jaw-dropping level of detail in nearly all scenes - to get an idea of the kind of work that went into the film, the animation team produced an average of 4 seconds of animation each week) over previous Pixar efforts, which were certainly more than impressive.
Pixar has produced some gems in the past, but "Up" truly stands up there with the best of them - the trailers did not do this outstanding film justice.
This set includes the Blu-Ray copy of the movie, DVD copy of the movie and digital copy (for PCs & Portables) disc.
VIDEO: Disney/Pixar presents "Up" on Blu-Ray in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are glorious - this is truly demo quality material for home theater owners. Sharpness and detail are sheer perfection - the picture offers a level of clarity that almost seems three-dimensional and glassy.
No edge enhancement was noticed, nor were any instances of pixelation. The direct-from-digital source, not surprisingly, looked absolutely pristine. Colors looked absolutely delightful, appearing bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1MA and - as with the picture quality - the results are absolutely splendid. The film's sound design is certainly lively, with the rear speakers chiming in with plenty of discrete effects and ambience. Audio quality is first-rate, with well-recorded dialogue and effects, as well as a few instances of strong, deep bass.
EXTRAS: "Cine-Explore" (for bonus view-enabled players) offers a commentary from co-director Pete Docter and co-director Bob Patterson, as well as additional "picture-in-picture" material scattered throughout the proceedings. The two have a great deal of fun chatting about the movie, discussing many of the tech challenges and recalling some of the changes that were made during the production.
Also included on the first disc are the "Partly Cloudy" theatrical short, "Doug's Special Mission" (an all-new short), a deleted scene, a short piece about the digital copy and a pretty fascinating 22-minute piece about the cast and crew's trip to South America for research.
The second disc offers up a 7-part documentary (a "play all" function would have been really nice), with each piece running a few minutes each. The documentaries are enjoyable and informative about various aspects of the production (such as creating characters and inspiration for scenes), but the documentary as a whole is a bit lighter and less in-depth than the usual "making of" documentary found on most Pixar offerings. Also included on the second disc are an additional alternate sequence, an interactive game ("Global Guardian Badge Game"), a promo reel and trailers. Finally, we also get a DVD copy on a third disc and a digital copy of the film on the 4th disc.
Final Thoughts: The trailers didn't do "Up" justice: this is a lovely, soulful and captivating effort from Pixar that truly stands out as one of their very best works. This is - without question - one of the finest films I've seen in a while. The Blu-Ray offers demo quality audio/video, as well as a few good supplements. Very highly recommended.
The Film A+