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As a matter of fact, they do make them like they used to, no matter what you've heard to the contrary. “Up” confirms mainstream Hollywood's ability to tell a story that feels straight out of another era, namely that of Classic Hollywood. Boldly sentimental, inventive and daring, alive with possibility and at the same time strangely traditional in subject matter, the newest film from Pixar succeeds in every detail. The animation company that has produced a string of quality family films over the last 15 years isn't reinventing any wheels, but they are on quite a roll. Few new releases are anticipated with the same kind of fervor and surety. Indeed, even releases that fall short of absolutely wonderful prove merely great. Who wouldn't be a little smug at this point?
While other film companies strain to hit that perfect note that pleases everyone, diluting unimaginative pablum into an offensive blend of condescension and stale topical humor in the process, Pixar effortlessly brings a smile to Mom, Dad and the kids. Lately, they've leaned on something of a formula.
Beginning with a small story, they build motivation and sympathy for often unlikely characters. The first half of “Wall-E” does this beautifully and with no dialogue. “Up” follows suit, and every bit as effectively. Though we'll know him best as an old man, we meet Carl Fredricksen as a shy young boy. He's fascinated with an adventurer named Arthur Muntz and a place in South America called Paradise Falls. Though grounded by certain physical limitations, his head is constantly in the clouds. He meets an awkward, exuberant little girl who shares his fascinations. Friendship blossoms into romance. Years fly by in montage. They marry, intent on visiting Paradise Falls together. They lead a happy life, but never make it to South America. His life is a story with no real arc, but you are unlikely to experience such a concentrated range of emotions as these again this year.
Once you're good and hooked, maybe having cried a little bit, Pixar sends its characters out into the great wide world for some big adventure. Here is where “Wall-E” faltered. Once released from his solitude, his hold on our imaginations loosened. Noisy gags and slapstick created a racket that disrupted the poignant silence. “Up,” however, quite literally soars. When Carl finally sets off for South America, his voyage feels so triumphant that there's room for a little noise. Things again get pretty silly, but our rhapsody can carry the weight. A young Boy Scout who tags along, a wacky spin on anthropomorphism and a healthy appetite for lunacy bolster instead of obscure the soulful Carl's incredible journey. Along the way, his tender devotion runs up against the brick wall of obsession. Carl frees himself from the past just in time to live out his short future.
“Up” may be Pixar's wildest and most cartoonish film yet, but also its tidiest and most affecting. Most films that feature an elderly person so prominently have either enough sentimentality or bitterness built in to sink the whole enterprise. Regrets are always either too bitter or too sweet. Though off-putting on their own, the two go together quite well. This great film's heart is big enough to house the right amount of each.
Doesn't hurt with the Godzilla tie-in. With the mentioning of Monarch, and the atomic bomb…