Plenty of reviews of the new Pixar triumph Up! will justifiably rave about its awe-inspiring look or nuanced voice work or overall fun factor, but I’d like to draw attention to an often-overlooked strength of Pixar films: outstanding writing and storytelling.
Nothing in a Pixar film comes out of the blue or as a cheap plot twist. If you pay attention, almost everything in Up! is foreshadowed, fits and engages the audience. The plot finds widower Carl and eager scout Russell driven to adventure by the absence of his lifelong love and a distant father, respectively. Since no one is immune from loneliness, we can’t help but feel for Carl and Russell, and though we realize the obvious way they’ve found each other, it never falls to cheap sentiment or mawkishness. The romance of Carl and his beloved Ellie is shown through a musical montage of their decades together, nary a word needed because its messages are simple, direct and compelling.
The key to any work of fiction — whether book or 30-second TV ad or motion picture — is constructing a world where every action makes sense according to its internal logic (however fanciful). Thus Carl’s transition from grieving grouch to daring/caring action hero (who outwits rather than outmuscles adversaries, a welcome change) is so well-plotted it doesn’t surprise us. As with most Pixar movies, the villain here comes with a psychological backstory; the studio’s canon never has the simple psychotic archetype baddie to trigger the car chases and explosions of many a Jerry Bruckheimer crapfest. Even with the amazing visuals of Up!, that I never stopped to wonder about how the animators did anything shows how much the story drew me in.
And ultimately that the movie’s four protagonists — senior citizen and young boy, exuberant dog and exotic bird — are driven by trying to satisfy someone or something else masterfully underscores the movie’s message about the importance of friendship and connection. That it doesn’t have to come out and say this only underscores the masterful nature of Up!‘s writing.