Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 4th, 2009
It sure seems like Pixar has a lock on the computer animated film industry these days. Their films appear to always hit just the right amount of adult and children content to win with both audiences. We may not all be laughing at the same jokes, but we do laugh. When we’re not laughing, we appear to be captivated by endearing characters that immediately feel like we’ve known them our whole lives. We are instantly concerned about the things that happen to them. All of this happens without a single live entertainer on the screen to guide us into these emotions. That’s because Pixar also happens to be the most state of the art studio out there churning out these kinds of films. The technological prowess is amazing. Perhaps the best compliment one can pay to a Pixar film is that all of these things, and much more, are true … and we never really notice it at all. We buy into whatever world they are offering without question and never realizing that we’ve done it. That’s not just good filmmaking. That’s magic. There’s a lot of heart in these zeros and ones.
Of course, magic is business as usual at Walt Disney Studios. Magic was Uncle Walt’s stock and trade, and so isn’t it just natural that Pixar would eventually find their home as part of the Disney family? For a while it seemed the two were about to part ways. At that time Disney was merely the animation studio’s distribution partner. A rift had developed when Disney was about to assert their contractual rights to make sequels from the Pixar properties they distributed, most particularly at the time, Toy Story. So, Pixar announced they were looking for a new partner in protest. A few deals were talked about, but in the end it could have been written as a Pixar film before it was over. Finding family is a common theme in the Pixar films. Eventually Disney and Pixar found each other again, this time cementing the deal when the Mouse House bought the animation pioneers. And all the while the continuing stream of classics hasn’t missed a beat. Okay. Let’s just forget about that Rat film.
The latest adventure for the new family is Up. It begins by telling the heartwarming story of a young couple who find each other and marry. Together they have dreams of adventure and intrigue like their mutual hero the Indiana Jones style explorer, Charles Muntz (Plummer). They vow to take an adventure themselves one day to an isolated plateau in South America, the last place Muntz was said to have explored. Of course, life is what happens while you’re making other plans, and the two grow old and Ellie (Docter) finally dies, leaving Carl alone and too old to follow his dream. Progress continues in their old neighborhood, and soon Carl’s house is the only one standing in the way of urban renewal. When he’s pushed hard enough, he strikes a construction worker and is ordered into a state facility. But Carl isn’t giving up on his dreams; in fact up is where he’s going to go. Attaching an unimaginable number of helium balloons to his home, he lifts it into the sky, course set for South America. Unfortunately, young boy scout Russell (Nagai) is trying to do his good deed and find some way to help old Carl. So, he’s stuck on the front porch when the house goes aloft. The two are stuck with each other but bond over the adventure Carl always wanted to have. Even if it means that his hero might not have been the man he always thought he was.
The latest Pixar adventure continues the tradition of excellence the studio has become synonymous for. One of the biggest improvements is the rendering of human characters. For a long time even Pixar had trouble getting these human characters to look just right. I have to say that this film represents the best progress I’ve seen to date in that arena. Carl and Russell capture emotions and movement in the most natural ways. The environments are, once again, just picture perfect, from the urban cityscape where the film begins to the Doyle-esque South American plateau where our adventurers end up. Another strong leap forward in computer animation.
Let’s face it. The story is a pretty big stretch. We all know that, but you will buy into it. I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to this one as much as previous Pixar films, at least when I first heard about the idea. But I was amazed at how quickly the flying house idea became a common place element. Credit Ed Asner as the voice of Carl for bringing enough humanity to the film. But even beyond that, it just doesn’t look as ridiculous as I thought it certainly had to look. If that’s kept you away at the theaters, just like Carl, you’re about to get a second chance. Don’t let this one float away.
Up is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is provided by an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average bit rate of 27 mbps. This is a stunning presentation. The most important elements here are color and texture, and this transfer delivers on both. Wait until you see those balloons. Not only do they exhibit a brilliance in color, but they have just the right amount of translucent quality to them. There is a remarkable level of detail that allows you to really take in the painstaking effort by these animators. I have to believe that after several viewings you would still be noticing new things. Texture also comes across in everything from dog fur and bird feathers to water and rock. There are some photorealistic images here, and this transfer allows you to truly appreciate it all. Another truly stunning work from Pixar and Disney.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track here is another example of the attention to detail I so often rave about. The thunderstorm surrounds you in scattered rain and wind effects that take full advantage of the surround range. Dialog is fine, and the wonderful Michael Giacchino score offers thunderous orchestrations and subtle but moving solo piano performances. This is one of the most moving scores I’ve heard in some time. Subs deliver occasionally. It’s a perfectly suited audio presentation.
There are 4 discs here. There is a DVD copy of the film as well as the standard digital copy. There are also two Blu-ray discs. Disc one contains the film and the following features all in HD:
Partly Cloudy: (5:46) This is the short that played before the film in its box office run. It tells the story of baby delivering storks who work for clouds that create babies. One stork works for a cloud that has a penchant for making dangerous babies.
Dug’s Special Mission: (4:40) This could almost be considered a deleted scene. It’s a bonus short that takes place between Dug and his pack just before we meet him in the film.
Adventure Is Out There: (22:17) The animation crew were taken to South America to visit some of the table-top mountains like those in the film. These are some amazing natural formations, and it’s easy to see their influence in the movie.
Alternate Scene – The Many Endings Of Munz: (4:56) It begins as a profile of the Munz character and ends with a look through storyboards of other ideas they had of having Munz get his.
Disc 2 contains promo material, another alternative scene in storyboard, a game, and trailers. There is also a section filled with the following features:
Geriatric Hero: (6:24) A profile of Carl. You get to see earlier designs and previz work. The crew talks about how they went to retirement homes to study real old men.
Canine Companions: (8:26) The crew observed real dog behavior and movement to help with the animation of Munz’s pack of dogs. They even hired a PhD in dog behavior to lecture on dogs. He gives us some basic dog information such as the myth that when dogs wag their tails it means they are happy. I always suspected that one.
Russell – Wilderness Ranger: (9:03) Story artist Peter Sohn looks a lot like Russell. There were other ideas for the character and you’ll see some conceptual art here. It’s also a profile and back story on the character.
Homemakers Of Pixar: (4:38) This piece examines the design and construction of the house. They even built a model to study complete with lights and furniture.
Balloons And Flight: (6:25) Producer Bob Peterson shared my concern, expressing his feeling that he just can’t bring himself to believe that a house can fly with a bunch of balloons. It was the crew’s job to convince him … and me. See how they did both.
Composing For Character: (7:37) Michael Giacchino delivered a wonderful score. Watch some of the orchestra recording sessions and listen to the ideas behind each character’s unique themes.
What can I say? I watch all of this behind the scene stuff, and I’m not buying it at all. I think it’s all a lie. None of this stuff is computer generated. Pixar has employed some kind of a wizard, and all of this is magic. There’s a mathematician who used to work for Revlon or Gillette building razors that used to observe that the simplest solution is the most likely, or some such thing. Which sounds simpler to you: 50 guys and gals use a gazillion bits of computer processing to mold these images into a movie after observing, designing, and testing a billion times. Or some grey bearded guy in a pointy hat waves a magic wand and there you have it. I’m going with the second. However they do it, as long as they keep doing it, they’ll be more magical moments to come. With Pixar and Disney it’s really true. “Adventure is out there.”