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Look UP: is this Pixar’s all-time best Blu-ray?

Another year, another offering from Pixar beloved by critics and adults and kids and whoever else has a functional heart and brain. Somehow, Pixar manages to cultivate wonderful creativity and originality in almost every film they make…

Up is no different, centering the story around an old man who lifts and flies his house with the help of an insane amount of balloons. Somehow, Pixar created an engaging story from that starting point.

Storytelling: 4/5

Up sails by at a brisk pace – clocking in at only 96 minutes – but it manages to fill that hour and a half with more than enough backstory, tender moments, comedic gags, and action.

The story begins following a little boy named Carl with dreams of grand adventure, inspired by his hero Charles F. Muntz. He soon runs into Ellie, an energeric young girl who shares the same love of adventure and Charles Muntz. It is then that Carl makes the promise to Ellie that he will help her get to Paradise Falls in South America.

The subsequent sequence is a 5-minute encapsulation of Carl and Ellie’s long-lasting marriage. It’s a totally silent collection of scenes, except for the Michael Giacchio-supplied score. It may not be the absolutely brilliant dialogue-less first act of Wall-E, but it’s quite a heartfelt and useful way to establish the backstory that sets up the heart of the film.

Carl is left alone in the house he and Ellie fixed up and truly made their own. He’s getting pushed out by building contractors, who will do or pay anything to get his old house out of the way. When Carl leaves them an opening, they take it, leaving Carl with seemingly no options – until he unleashes a massive collection of balloons that lift his house off the foundation and kick off the action of the film.

What Carl didn’t realize when lifting off was that a young boy named Russell – who he had sent off on a fool’s errand the day before – was on the deck upon liftoff. Much of the story from that point on revolves around the relationship between Carl and Russell, the old curmudgeon and the excitable, curious young kid. I found myself siding with Carl most of the time, if only because I found Russell as annoying as he did.

Once the two land in South America, there are all sorts of things going on, but for the most part, everything works flawlessly. Without giving too much away, it involves a giant colorful bird, dozens of dogs wearing speech-collars, and the reemergence of a figure from the beginning of the film. Within the universe Up establishes (one where a house can be lifted up by balloons) every whimisical and providential occurrence makes perfect sense.

The film does alternate between action and dialogue frequently, but it always handles the transition well. It helps that the relationship between Carl and Russell truly grows in their intimate scenes, and that the action setpieces are exciting, easy to follow, and carry meaning and consequence.

By the end of the film, Carl has learned to move forward by letting go of the past he can never get back. I hate to do this, but it’s pretty uplifting. See what I did there?

Video: 5/5

There aren’t many words needed to describe how gorgeous and pristine this Blu-ray transfer is. Every Pixar offering on the format has been absolutely perfect and Up is no different.

There are countless stunning scenes in the film – from the house first taking flight through the clouds, to the reveal of the otherworldly landscape surrounding Paradise Falls, to the juxtaposition of Carl’s quaint house and Charles Muntz’s massive blimp.

So while the direction for the most part is fairly standard, there are most definitely frames in the film that stand out as truly memorable. Bottom line, it’s a gorgeous film, but you didn’t need to be told that.

Audio: 5/5

Unsurprisingly, the sound is no less impressive than the image.

Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, the mix is pitch-perfect, allowing you to hear dialogue effortlessly in even the most action-packed of scenes, while also accentuating Michael Giacchio’s wonderful score. There’s just not one bad thing to be said about Up’s A/V presentation.

Package: 5/5

Up comes in a four-disc package that – in addition to two BD-50 discs – has a DVD and Digital Copy. Not a bad deal.

The first disc consists of the film and some extras, while the second has a bunch of additional supplements. There are two amusing animated shorts on the first disc: Partly Cloudy and Dug’s Special Mission. I preferred the latter, since it focuses on a dog and serves as additional backstory for the film, but both are very fun little stories.

Then there’s a documentary “Adventure is Out There,”which details the travels of the Pixar crew while they researched the South American land they wished to draw from for the film. It’s a pretty interesting 20 minutes or so, and it admittedly made me a bit jealous.

The rest of the supplemental material scattered across the two discs is mostly just short featurettes on certain aspects of the film, giving some insight into how Pixar does what it does so well. How the score was created, how they came up with the characters, even the physics of the balloons — if you’re into that type of stuff.

The commentary for the film is called “Cine-Explore”, and it supplies picture-in-picture storyboards and videos and drawings that accompany the commentary, but the PiP disappointingly does not add too much to what is being said. Although there is footage of a real dog, which is enough for me to get excited. Have you noticed I like dogs?

But even if the Cine-Explore didn’t exactly blow me away, the total package is more than anyone could ask for at a regular Blu-ray price.

Bias:

I can’t end this review without saying that Ed Asner is terrific as Carl. Who better to voice a crusty old guy?

At this point, you may think I’m a rabid Pixar fan. Well I’m not, at least not yet — but I seem to be getting there. I do know I had a huge smile on my face while watching Up.

It’s a great movie for anyone, as it manages to evoke just about every emotion you can think of. It also speeds along quick enough for even the shortest of attention spans — although I don’t have a kid of my own to test this on.

Other than the fact that I found the character of Russell a bit annoying, I can’t find much fault in the film. Maybe I didn’t find some of the dog models or animation to be that impressive? I’m reaching quite far here trying to come up with reasons for you to not buy this. Just put it next to the other Pixar films, in the reference section of your Blu-ray library.

Verdict: 5/5 – “TREASURE”

First published Dec 21, 2009 on BlurayDaily.com

 

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