May 13, 2009 / 3:14 AM / 10 years ago

Pixar raises the animation bar with buoyant "Up"

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Given the inherent three-dimensional quality evident in Pixar’s cutting-edge output, the fact that the studio’s 10th animated film is the first to be presented in digital 3-D wouldn’t seem to be particularly groundbreaking in and of itself.

But what gives “Up” such a joyously buoyant lift is the refreshingly nongimmicky way in which the process has been incorporated into the big picture — and what a wonderful big picture it is.

Winsome, touching and arguably the funniest Pixar effort ever, the gorgeously rendered, high-flying adventure is a tidy 90-minute distillation of all the signature touches that came before it.

It’s also the ideal choice to serve as the first animated feature to open the Cannes Film Festival, considering the way it also pays fond homage to cinema’s past, touching upon the works of Chaplin and Hitchcock, not to mention aspects of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Wizard of Oz” and, more recently, “About Schmidt.”

Box-office-wise, the sky’s the limit for “Up,” which Walt Disney Studios releases stateside May 29.

Even with its PG rating (the first non-G-rated Pixar picture since “The Incredibles”), there really is no demographic that won’t respond to its many charms.

The Chaplin-esque influence is certainly felt in the stirring prelude, tracing the formative years of the film’s 78-year-old protagonist, recent widower Carl Fredricksen (terrifically voiced by Ed Asner).

Borrowing “WALL-E’s” poetic economy of dialogue and backed by composer Michael Giacchino’s plaintive score, the nostalgic waltz between Carl and the love of his life, Ellie, effectively lays all the groundwork for the fun stuff to follow.

Deciding it’s better late than never, the retired balloon salesman depletes his inventory and takes to the skies (house included), determined to finally follow the path taken by his childhood hero, discredited world adventurer Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer).

But he soon discovers there’s a stowaway hiding in his South America-bound home in the form of Russell, a persistent 8-year-old scout (scene-stealing young newcomer Jordan Nagai), and the pair prove to be one irresistible odd couple.

Despite the innate sentimentality, director Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) and co-director and writer Bob Peterson keep the laughs coming at an agreeably ticklish pace.

Between that Carl/Russell dynamic and Muntz’s pack of hunting dogs equipped with multilingual thought translation collars, “Up” ups the Pixar comedy ante considerably.

Meanwhile, those attending theaters equipped with the Disney Digital 3-D technology will have the added bonus of experiencing a three-dimensional process that is less concerned with the usual “comin’ at ya” razzle-dazzle than it is with creating exquisitely detailed textures and appropriately expansive depths of field.

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