Nearly four months before its scheduled release, Disney and Pixar Animation gave a select group of journalists an early look at Pete (Monsters Inc.) Docter’s next movie Up, showing 45 minutes of the unfinished film as a sneak preview to the debut of the footage at the New York Comic-Con the next day.
If you’ve seen the teaser trailer or the Super Bowl spot than you already know that the general premise involves an old man named Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner), who decides to go on a great adventure; inadvertently along for the ride is a 9-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell. We haven’t really seen anything of what happens after that in terms of the duo’s adventures. All we’ve seen of the movie so far is the image of hundreds of helium-filled balloons coming out of the chimney of Fredricksen’s house, pulling it out of its foundation and taking it high into the sky.
After the usual disclaimers about unfinished visuals and sound and temp sore, they rolled the first 45 minutes of the movie, basically the set-up for the premise with Carl Fredrickson’s back story leading up to the house taking off, then showing the very early stages of what happens after that.
The film opens with a newsreel of the explorer Charles Muntz returning from his latest trip to South America via blimp along with the dogs that accompany him everywhere. Watching this footage is a young impressionable boy who eats up every word said by the explorer. This is the young Carl Fredrickson who wants to be just like Muntz and follow his words of wisdom: “Adventure is out there.” As Carl walks home with a balloon, he passes an abandoned house and hears the voice of another kid inside, who is navigating the house’s weather vane as if it were a flying ship. This is Ellie, an excitable tomboy who is just as enamored by Charles Muntz’s adventures as the awestruck young boy. While Carl barely says a word, she talks a mile a minute about her plans and convinces him to go along for the ride, and they immediately hit it off. A few minutes later, we see the two of them when they’re older and getting married, followed by an absolutely amazing montage, that shows Carl and Ellie’s entire lives unfold before our eyes, as they have dreams of eventually going down to South America and exploring the Paradise Falls they heard about through Muntz’s adventures. Ellie gets a job as a zookeeper and Carl sells helium balloons to the kids from his cart, but sadly, they keep having to spend the savings for their Paradise Falls adventure on house renovations and the like. After decades together, they never get to fulfill their dreams, as Ellie gets ill. (I’ll freely admit that I got more than a little teary-eyed during some of this sequence.)
Once Ellie is gone, Carl is alone and bitter, but on top of that, his house is the last one remaining on the block as a developer is building skyscrapers all around him. Obviously, Carl’s old house is in the way and they want it and him gone. (We get to hear John Ratzenberger’s inevitable cameo, voicing one of the construction workers who interacts with Carl.) After an unfortunate altercation with another construction worker, it’s decided that Carl should be sent to a home but when the men show up to take him there, he’s already decided to go off on the adventure that he and Ellie always dreamed of. This is a great opening for the film, because we really learn what drives Carl – his love for Ellie and his desire to accomplish what they never got to do while she was alive.
While the footage of Carl’s house taking off from the ground in the trailer looks great, the entire unedited scene just looks amazing as thousands of balloons float from behind the house and pull it out of its foundation. Even so, scenes of this house flying over the town and fields is just gorgeous to behold, the type of inspiring image that was probably key in getting the movie off the ground, so to speak. We actually get to see Carl meet Russell earlier in the footage as the young Wilderness Explorer shows up to try to earn his one missing badge, “Aiding the Elderly” and gets sent off on a Wild Snipe Chase by Fredrickson. Unfortunately, Russell returns just as the house is taking off and Carl finds that he’s stuck with the talkative kid. There’s a funny sequence where Carl imagines one way of getting Russell down from the flying house, but before he can get the boy off his hands, the house flies into a thunderstorm, and they have to work together to get the house through it safely before it eventually lands.
Having won many awards playing Lou Grant from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and his own spin-off “Lou Grant,” Ed Asner does cranky well, but young Jordan Nagai steals the show as Russell, a chubby Asian kid constantly jabbering and asking questions to the impatient old man. We don’t want to spoil too much of the fun that happens once they arrive at Paradise Falls, but once there, they start to encounter a few other strange characters who’ll be along for the adventure including an odd colorful bird who the boy names “Kevin” and… a talking dog. (There’s actually a bunch of talking dogs, but they’re not handled in the same way as Bolt; we’ll just say that it’s a very clever and funny idea.) And that’s all we’ll say for now, but you can guarantee that if the rest of the movie is nearly as heart-warming and fun as what we saw, this is going to be another beloved Pixar classic, even if it’s admittedly a lot stranger than what we’ve seen from the studio in the past, especially once they arrive in South America. (Then again, this is the studio who got moviegoers to accept the concept of cooking rats, so who knows?)
Despite the early warnings, the footage looked amazing, much better than we expected, having seen DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda last year in a far less finished state. While it’s certainly going to look even better, we couldn’t even tell what part of the music was the finished score by Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, The Incredibles), and what was temp, but a lot of the film is driven as much by the music as the interaction between characters.
After the footage was shown, Pete Doctor and producer Jonas Rivera answered some questions about the genesis of the project, claiming that some of their influences included the Muppets and Japanese animating God Hayao Miyazaki. Docter also made a reference to cartoonist Al Hirschfeld when asked about the difficulties of making a movie with human characters, saying that he enjoyed the simplifications that came with having caricaturized humans.
This may be the first time that Pixar has shown so much of one of their movies so far in advance, and that opportunity came about from the fact that Pixar’s animators were able to get the first three reels of the movie into the state that we saw. Docter promised that the action aspect of the movie continues to ramp up over the course of the film, which they estimate will be 87 minutes long. (They confirmed there will be a short in front of it as always, but weren’t able to announce what it will be or who is directing it.)
Up opens on May 29 in regular and 3D theaters, but you can see this 45-minute sneak preview if you’re attending the New York Comic-Con this weekend. It will be shown in the IGN Theater on Saturday evening at 6:30pm, but we suggest getting there early!