At the Michigan

Courtesy of Disney-Pixar

5 out of 5 stars

When an audience claps at the end of a movie, you know that greatness has been achieved. But when an audience applauds and bursts into hysterical laughter every five minutes, then a movie has gone above and beyond such paltry terms as “great,” “groundbreaking” or even “exceptional.” It has become truly legendary.

Disney-Pixar’s “Up” should become such a legend. It is, in a word, flawless.

The film tells the epic tale of Carl Fredricksen (Edward Asner, “Elf”), an old geezer with an adventurous young spirit. For years, he and his wife planned to venture off to a mystical South American region called Paradise Falls to follow in the footsteps of their mutual idol Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer, “National Treasure”). After his wife’s passing, Fredricksen is essentially forced out of his home and into a retirement facility by construction contractors. To escape this fate, he uses hundreds of balloons to launch his house into the air, but he is unwittingly accompanied by Russell (newcomer Jordan Nagai), a junior wilderness explorer who needs to earn a merit badge for assisting the elderly. Russell uses his handy GPS to navigate the floating house to Paradise Falls, where he and Fredricksen find both the adventures they’d always dreamed of and new best friends in each other.

While Pixar has experimented with human characters in “Toy Story” and “Wall-E,” “Up” is its first film to place humans in starring roles. Along with these more realistic characters comes a more emotionally compelling and plausible story.

In the opening sequence, Fredricksen and his wife Elie are seen going through several decades of marriage. After this heartwarming montage, Elie’s death comes as an early heartbreak in the film, and it certainly isn’t the only one. “Up” contains some truly tear-jerking moments, as well as some surprisingly dark themes (including the mention of an estranged father and what must be the first shotgun ever fired in a Pixar movie).

While past Pixar efforts “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” definitely had their fair share of emotional tug, the human element of “Up” makes it stand out. Fortunately, the same effect is present in the more joyous moments as well. A smiling old man just seems more relatable than a grinning fish or a giggling robot.

Of course all this emotional realism would have been lost without superb animation. But come on, people. It’s Pixar. That’s what they do. Thankfully, the animation in Pixar’s first fully 3-D film succeeds in every way imaginable, despite it being uncharted territory. “Up” strikes a perfect balance between surrealism and reality as the playfully cartoonish house floats through remarkably believable cloudscapes. And not only is every scene full of breathtaking detail, but the 3-D technology is used with such a professional subtlety that it’s easy to forget not all movies are made this way.

Another arena where “Up” can’t be competed with is its humor. Every last joke is original and clever and hits its mark perfectly. The only negative thing that can be said about the film’s unmatched comedy (and the movie as a whole) is that the audience’s uncontrollable laughter may cover up some of the funny moments. But it’s hard to care about missing a good line or two when you’re still reeling from the last one. “Up” finds humor in everything, from what would happen if dogs could talk (and serve champagne) to the inevitable comedy of two old men with bad backs dueling with swords and walkers. And it does so with a cleverness that can only be honed through the years of experience of some of the greatest minds in modern filmmaking. “Up” also does a remarkable job of balancing the child-oriented humor with the more adult jokes, making sure the entire audience is fully entertained throughout the film.

“Up” takes all the adjectives that could be used to describe a great movie and turns them into understatements. It’s one of the most clever, beautiful, moving and enjoyable films in recent memory. But these words don’t even come close to doing it justice. In fact, “Up” is so good that I won’t even use a snappy pun to finish this review. “Up” is above such puns.

Get it? Above?

I couldn’t resist.

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