When Carl Fredericksen (voiced by Edward Asner) was a boy, his idol was the great explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), who he avidly followed on newsreels at his local picture house. But the last he ever heard of him was when Muntz was disgraced after an expedition to South America in his airship, where his discovery of a rare bird skeleton was dismissed as a fake, leading him to return there to capture a living specimen - and was never seen again. Time passed for Carl, and he fell in love with Ellie, a girl who shared his passion for adventure, yet even as they grew up and were married, they never did quite make it on the expedition they had always planned... and now it's too late.
Or is it? Pixar's Up confirmed them once again as one of the most innovative animation studios around, taking what was a deeply silly story and presenting it with the utmost gravity - many were caught unawares at how moving the first ten minutes were, as it detailed in a poignant montage the life of Carl and Ellie, from their first meeting to her eventual death, leaving him all alone in the little house they called home. While for Carl life seems to have stood still, everywhere else is moving on apace, as shown by the fact that developers are building skyscrapers around the house while he stubbornly refuses to move to a retirement home, and when he gets into an altercation with one of the officials he finds himself forced out.
This happens when the mailbox he and Ellie had put up and decorated is knocked over, which brings out the theme of emotional baggage which runs through the film. To everyone else, it was simply a mailbox and not worth getting into a fight over, but to Carl it represented something left behind by the love of his life, which nobody but he could relate to. It is this which makes up his mind to pay tribute to his wife, and when the nurses arrive to escort him to the retirement home, they discover he has tied thousands of helium balloons to the chimney and takes off into the wild blue yonder, setting sail for South America and the Paradise Falls which Ellie always wanted to visit.
Although she appears in the short first act and is only seen thereafter in photographs, Ellie is an important character as without her Carl would have nobody to encourage him in his quest. What he doesn't realise on his leap into the unknown is that he has a stowaway of sorts, as the wilderness scout who he fobbed off with some nonsense about a made-up bird to get him his "helping the elderly" badge. Russell (Jordan Nagai) is clinging to the outside of the flying house, and Carl comes to realise that he cannot simply lock everyone out of his life now he is in the autumn of his years. After a terrible storm, this unlikely duo are over the area where Paradise Falls is situated, and Carl feels he can settle.
But the best laid plans and all that, and Carl's wish for peace and quiet will not be so easily won as he embarks on the adventure Ellie always wanted for them both. For in the jungle lies the now ancient, but still spry, Charles Muntz, who also has his baggage in that he is still smarting about not being recognised by his peers and betters, and has spent the past seventy years trying to capture the rare bird. The rare bird which Russell has almost immediately made friends with on reaching terra firma, which sets up the main conflict. Even Russell has his own experiences which he will never shake, as we learn he has an estranged father which is affecting the upbeat kid far more than he admits, so imagine how he feels when Carl wants nothing more to do with him. But you can teach an old dog new tricks, and you can teach a talking dog new tricks as well, as they all find out. Up might have worn its good intentions on its sleeve, but it was sweet and genuine, proving that an absurd tale put across with sincerity and decency has the power to affect you far more than you might have expected. Music by Michael Giacchino.