One sequence, toward the beginning of Pete Docter’s old-man-and-a-kid romance, made everyone fall for Up. In the 1930s, Carl, a preteen adventurer (if only in his mind), hopes one day to visit Paradise Falls in remote South America; then he meets a girl named Ellie, whose daring matches his dreams, and it’s love at first sight. A tender montage synopsizes a half-century of their life together: the wedding, the fixing up of their home, the quiet walks, their respective jobs at the local zoo (her tending the animals, he selling balloons), their eager preparations for a child they later learn they can’t have, their need to defer the big trip to Paradise Falls to pay for home improvements, then her slowing pace and death. This series of vignettes is played without dialogue and underscored by Michael Giacchino’s wistful waltz. It’s the sweetest, saddest 4½ min. you’ll ever see in a movie.
With the love of his life gone, widower Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) might as well be dead. His home is really a mausoleum, and he is both caretaker and corpse. We never heard the mature Carl say a word to Ellie while she was alive, but now he talks nonstop to his absent darling. She’d understand his bitterness; she might even forgive it. And she’d surely approve of his decision to fly to Paradise Falls — in his own house, to which he has attached 20,000 helium-filled balloons. What he doesn’t expect is that he will have company: a Wilderness Ranger named Russell, who’s about the same age Carl was when he met Ellie.
Up revels in a minimum of dialogue, deft comic underplaying and a style the Pixar people call “simplexity” — a character design that stresses circles and cubes. Carl looks like a trash-compacted Spencer Tracy in his later years; Ellie is curvy; and the round Russell might be another balloon. The visual scheme also goes for contrasts: Carl’s home has a muted, almost funereal palette, while the South American flora and fauna form a ravishing fiesta of color. From the fairly radical notion of a family feature about a mean old man who literally and figuratively learns to let go, Docter and co-director and co-writer Bob Peterson sent Carl and the audience on a journey in two new directions: penetratingly inward and exaltedly up.