Ranking Pixar's feature-length gems in order is akin to ranking the 10 best Beatles singles or the five best martini cocktails -- to each his or her emphatic own -- so let's just say that the studio's 10th effort, Up, won't be leaving viewers feeling down. It's merely one more winner for an outfit that refuses to compromise its high level of quality, to say nothing of its artistic integrity.
Unusual for any Hollywood movie -- animated or otherwise -- in that it centers on a senior citizen (at least, one not played by Clint Eastwood), Up tells the story of Carl Fredricksen (voiced by 79-year-old Ed Asner, in his best role since Lou Grant all those many moons ago), a 78-year-old balloon salesman who, after the passing of his beloved wife and faced with eviction from his longtime home, decides to hook said abode to thousands of helium-filled balloons and drift off to an uninhabited part of South America, where he plans to park his home next to a waterfall that holds a special meaning for him. The launch goes smoothly enough, until he discovers that he has an unwanted passenger in the form of 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer member Russell (Jordan Nagai), whose boundless energy wears out the curmudgeonly Carl. Nevertheless, the senior citizen pushes upward and onward, only to encounter a plethora of unexpected developments once they reach their destination.
Up kicks off on a high note -- specifically, the absolutely delightful short (Partly Cloudy) that precedes the main attraction. As for the feature itself, in addition to providing the requisite thrills (those afraid of heights will tense up during the exhilarating climax), it's as emotionally involving as we've come to expect from our Pixar pics, with themes of longing, loneliness and self-sacrifice coursing through its running time. In fact, its PG rating alone hints that this is one of those toon tales that will resonate more powerfully with adults than with kids, and never more so than in the early sequences between Carl and his wife Ellie (did we really just witness a miscarriage in an animated film?).
Of course, this wouldn't be a family film without some colorful sidekicks to provide added entertainment value, and while the number of supporting characters proves slim (a far cry from, say, Cars or Finding Nemo), the picture does provide one keeper in Dug, a happy-go-lucky dog who's been equipped with a device that allows him to speak (he's voiced by co-director Bob Peterson). In fact, if there's a minor complaint to be directed at the film, it's that it doesn't include enough of Dug or the other (fiercer) canines operating under the auspices of an eccentric explorer (Christopher Plummer) living in the South American wilds. Here's a movie that could have gone to the dogs -- literally -- and it still would have deserved two enthusiastic thumbs up.