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Observations on Up

Had the pleasure of seeing Pixar’s latest masterpiece last Thursday — and yeah, it’s a masterpiece. They’ve done it again. An original modern day fable – a pure blend of intelligent, artful filmmaking and commercial pop-entertainment. The sentimental first fifteen minutes will touch your heart, and the rest of the film is a fast, funny visual delight. Enjoyable on every level.

Pixar leads. I’m not quite sure if others are following, but one thing is for sure: Pixar leads. One reason they stand far and away from their competition is that they take risks. Their point of view in developing story material is aimed in a different direction from the other studios. I also love how Pixar tells their stories – treating the audience, including the kids, as intelligent human beings.

That said, Up is still at its heart, a cartoon. The characters are caricatures, the situations impossible and yet – as with all great cartoons – we can relate to the characters and their motivations.

You can read the plot details and learn behind the scenes information on other sites. Here are a few odd footnotes and observations of my own… no spoilers, I hope.

• Anyone notice the similarity of between Carl Frederickson and actor Spencer Tracy (circa 1963-1967)? See photo above for comparision.

•The floating house is a lot more than a gimmick. Carl is tethered to it throughout the film (it represents his late wife). In fact, this is surely the best flying house movie since Winsor McCay’s The Flying House (1921). I didn’t once think about Zathura (2005), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), or Danny Deckchair (2003)… until I left the theatre.

•The villian of the piece is named Charles Muntz. I wonder what inspired his name? In real life, Charles Mintz was the animation producer who “stole” Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, forcing Walt Disney to create Mickey Mouse. In Up, Muntz is trying to capture an elusive “cartoon-like” bird, and created a way to make animals “talk”. Is their any connection here? Is the animation histotian in me reading too much into all this?

•”Kevin”, the film’s gooney bird (below right), is a hybrid of a Dr. Suess creation and a Fleischer cross-eyed character (below left, from 1932’s Sing A Song,). Loved it.

I loved all of UP. It worked for me. Get out and see UP in 3D on May 29th (or that weekend) — and enjoy this current golden age as long as it lasts.

  • OtherDan

    I’m even more excited to see it now. Thanks.

  • Sam Filstrup

    I was sold before but now I have even a greater anticipation for the film.

  • Trevor

    So glad to hear Pete Docter has another hit on his hands. I think where no one can play up cute more than Stanton, and no one can elevate animation higher than Bird, no one knows the definition of fun better than Docter.

    When I heard the basic premise behind this film, I was excited. I wanted to see how Pixar would pull it off. Any other studio (and I mean ANY other studio) that announced a film like this, and I would be rolling my eyes. And I’d probably be right in my preconceived snub.

  • Yeah, Jerry, totally agree. Had the opportunity to see “Up” twice and it’s simply one of Pixar’s greatest films. And yes, the first fifteen minutes are beautiful. Sobed more than a few tears, but it was sweet and real.

  • Great news, I can’t wait to see it!

  • Michael

    I knew UP was going to be good, but I never knew it would be this great!

  • Wow, that was a bit of a shockeroo to see that you liked “Up”. Also shocking to see classic movie/cartoon refrences for this movie.

  • glad to hear the movie lived up to your expectations!

    And the Mintz thing isn’t that weird, considering I thought Ratatouille was a whole parable representing the Disney studios. Gusteau (Disney) is dead while his successor is churning out microwave burritos with his name on them (Cheapquels) and then a family member returns with a talented outsider (Roy and Lassetter) to restore them to their former glory.

  • I’ll right, I’ll be a d*ck and gripe. I was sitting at a bus stop looking at the very “Up” advertisement posted above, being reminded of why I HATE the visual style. He’s a goofy, misshapen character with ultra-realistic hair, where you can see every thread of his tweed pants, where the stylized cartoony caricature will be animated with human, rotoscope-like facial expressions and bodily gestures. It’s an ill fit to me, which is why I never spend a cent on this stuff.

    The generally lame stories are another reason. I thought I’d give “Ratatouille” a shot after hearing it had a decent story despite a lead cartoon character whose every hair bristles like a real rodent. Another derivative Hollywood plot, ho hum.

    I’m not generally a negative comment poster, but this animation fan (who is NOT in the business) can’t stand Pixar/Disney junk!

  • saw it, loved it.

    agree about the first 15 minutes.

    truly special!

  • Jimmy

    I lol at the Ratatouille thing. Anyway, so glad that Up is really well-received, and I believe some of the callbacks are intentional (the music, the design, the characters…). Can’t wait to see it in 3D.

  • I’m a lot more interested in this one than I was in Wall-E. This one looks more cartoony, while at the other hand the emotional part seems to be closer to real life than it was in their previous movies. The characters seem to have funny designs and personalities. There is nothing that can get wrong here.

  • Jason

    I have to admit that, after being underwhelmed by Ratatouille and bored silly by Cars, my interest in all things Pixar had pretty much gone south.
    But Up looks incredibly refreshing. It looks intelligent, fun, colorful and creative. Most importantly, it looks ADULT in the best sense of the word. After sitting through the surface-charms of various Dreamworks films (I did enjoy Kung Fu Panda, but it was pretty much a Jack Black film, with all the depth and wit you’d expect from that genre – yes, that was sarcasm), I hope to cleanse my palate with a truly refreshing dose of stellar animated filmmaking. So I’ll be going to see Up, and – has anyone noticed what a literally uplifting title the film bears? Given the state of the country right now, it’s almost painfully ironic.

  • Tom Minton

    Anyone remember Mad Man Muntz? Rod Scribner designed him as a cartoon logo but his personality was sort of an early version of Crazy Eddie. He was mentioned in Bob Hope radio monologues of the 1940’s and like Cal Worthington later, Muntz was all over the popular media as an unorthodox salesman and orthodox loon. I have yet to see “Up” but if Charles Muntz is supposed to be a wee bit of a madman, especially in the later reels, Mad Man Muntz may have provided some degree of inspiration.

  • This looks like a winner, I’m especially excited by the character designs!!!

  • animaniac

    this is the true inspiration for Carl Frederickson…


  • Every time I find out about the premise of the next new Pixar movie my initial impression is cynical. Then the movie comes out and I end up falling in love with it. To date, Pixar has not disappointed me, even when I thought they would.

    When I heard the premise of UP I thought it was AWESOME, then the doubt sinks in; “OH MAN, will it live up to my expectations”!? By the sounds of it, I think it will. But just in case I will still shed my expectations and just go to this because I love the medium and love seeing new films.

  • This is actually the first reaction, or any article, that I have read on Up, and I’m quite glad you haven’t given the story away. Just those nuggets of animation-related observation is enough to still persuade me to see Up, even thou I have a vague, but not complete, idea of what is the storyline.

  • Rodrigo

    After Ratatouille and Wall-E, I’m now worried that Pixar is losing its touch.

    But I have faith in Pete.

  • Ooooh I can’t wait :)

  • Neil

    Looking forward to seeing this but being in the UK means a 4 month wait by which time the Stateside DVD/Blu Ray will be imminent.
    Delayed release to the UK market seems to be the norm for Pixar films.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Carl Frederickson was Spencer Tracy just like Edna Mode was Edith Head.

    Has anyone heard of an ASIFA screening yet?

  • a reader

    I had to stop reading your post Jerry, when you began to tell me a couple of things I’d only find out if I were more than halfway through the film myself. It doesn’t come out for days so I’d rather have as much as possible be a surprise. I wish there were “jump” cuts in posts like these.
    And yeah, Carl really does resemble Tracy in “Dinner”! Good catch.

  • I saw the film about a year ago while it was still a story reel. Mainly story sketches, and a few bits of color — but it was all there as far as I was concern.

    “How does Pixar differ from Disney,” I’m often asked? Pixar is fearless! That’s my answer. Like Walt Disney, they don’t fear taking risks, and that’s what makes them so creative.

    If only Disney had the (pardon my expression) balls!

  • So excited to see this film!

  • Zuzu Petal

    “If only Disney had the (pardon my expression) balls!”

    Disney drove off or fired anyone with balls long ago. They’re all at Pixar and running the ‘little d’ from Emeryville as best as they can. It’s a tough job considering the tragic medical condition of everyone at ‘little d’. Some middle manager hoping to score points with the boss should fire off a memo: “Plan to Reintegrate Balls for Necessary Departments”.

    It’s another Golden Age, as Jerry said. How can little d have forgotten how to even ACT like they know what they’re doing…?

    “Look for, the Union La -bel…” They sure know how to count their hours, though…

  • Can’t wait to see it Myself !!!

  • Izzy

    Actually, according to the credits, the old man Carl is based partially on the late, great Joe Grant.

  • Speaking of Disney and balls has anyone else seen the American Dog character designs someone posted in his blog?

    Man, those were fantastic character designs…

  • Animatouro

    This question is for Floyd Norman:

    You are saying that at Disney they have no balls and I may agree with you, but how can it be if it’s run by the same guys that run Pixar?

  • I already can’t believe we’re 12 days away from seeing this! I needs me a good movie and a giant bucket of popcorn to shake off the Final Exam jitters.

  • It does seem odd, doesn’t it?

    Yet, did we Honestly expect things to change? It would have been nice if it had, but I live in the real world.

  • ZigZag

    This is indeed the best Pixar premise I’ve read in a long time. The sheer chutzpah it took to create a film where the lead is an old man – no, an old WIDOW – deserves great respect, and one ticket bought. And if anyone can pull it off, it’s Docter (whose execution on “Monsters, Inc.” was decent, and whose CalArts shorts remain required viewing for anyone interested in animation).

    That being said, given their last three technically achieving yet boring films (Cars, Ratatouille and Wall•e), I’ve had this sinking feeling that Pixar lost its way. If “story is king,” then the king appears to be on holiday, and Prince Technology, Princess Design and Duke P.R. are reigning in his absence, in hopes that no one notices that he’s been gone far too long.

    Either way, hat’s off to the folks at E-ville. I’m looking forward to being proven horribly wrong – something that happens far too often (but not as often as I’d like).

  • KC

    Just saw UP this weekend – what a breath of fresh air amid the paralyzing pretentiousness that were Ratatouille and Wall-e….Made them look like whiny little movies with whiny characters and whiny problems. This movie: self sacrifice! Moving on! Improving yourself! Finding inspiration in others! Also very fun and sharp and hilarious…I love Dug to pieces. Too much in the teasers, though, after the first 2 minutes you know the entire plot of the story and what is going to happen…I wish Russel’s dad situation was more clarified, and pushed…Few complaints, though, thoroughly enjoyable movie and I will see it again many more times. Partly Cloudy was fantastic too.

  • Karl

    Pixar does indeed lead the pack and innovates and usually succeeds across the board. They are an insular, boutique studio that grew organically from the start and, aside from Cars, always get creative A’s as most would agree. Few can argue that they don’t usually get things right. More than that, they always carve out unique story niches with big marketable ideas. Bravo Pixar! Can’t wait to see Up!

    Sadly, the same cannot be said for Pixar leadership running Disney. From what I’ve heard so far, Pixar leadership at Disney is spread way too thin, quite arrogant, talks down to everyone in Animated Hollywood (Dreamworks and Disney folks alike), stands on a high and mighty soapbox but acts mostly like absentee parents who put too much of their trust in middle management (which serve a similar function as the old executives, just under new titles). Pixar leadership at Disney routinely recasts directors more than any studio you could name, based mostly on their not being around much and then delaying judgement until time runs out, then making rash decisions under pressure. Claiming it’s ‘director driven’ is simply not true if you look at the films produced or currently in development at Disney since the leadership switch, TP&TF being the only real exception. Disney is (Pixar) executive driven by most accounts. Now this is no problem if the new Disney movies are successful, but based on Bolt and Meet The Robinsons, they have lots of work to do to reach the creative/Box office strides of Pixar. And part of the problem may be that the creators of these two films were not given as free reign as the creators of Up.

    The worst fear is that Pixar leadership looks at Pixar as the place of innovation, while they look at Disney as a place that points backwards, mining the cinematic corpses of the past, making 2D or 3D princess musicals, Goofy Shorts and Peter Pan Pixie derivatives in an attempt to give a segment of the audience shiny new antiques in the hopes they fill another niche – one that, of course, must not collide with Pixar, their first and true love and their reason for being. A challenge to be sure.

    As a well-informed fan of both studios, I hope Pixar lets Disney establish it’s own unique voice moving forward. Because the talented artists in that building deserve it.

  • Another distant Muntz/Disney connection is Oskar Fischinger, who worked on Fantasia, and later animated Muntz TV ads, with that great jingle, “There’s something about a Muntz TV…” I have one on an old Pioneer laserdisc, but can’t find any on YouTube.

    Muntz also manufactured a car, the Muntz Jet, that’s highly prized by collectors today. Wonder if Lasseter has one?

  • I haven’t seen “UP” yet, but I wanted to comment on the Spencer Tracy comparison. Although I agree, I think Carl actually looks a lot more like the actor Mitch Ryan formerly of Dharma and Greg. There is a photo of him on IMDB with glasses reading a script. Check it out. I also think that although Muntz is voiced by Christopher Plummer, his look is taken from Kirk Douglas.

  • VioletR

    I loved Wall-E. I dont see why it gets so much negativity. Especially since it covered a very important subject; the end of the world/world enviromental changes. Everyone found it boring, but I found it very amusing. Its my favorite Pixar movie.

    I really want to see UP. I think either the dog or the Bird will end up my favorite… With these positive reinforcements, I can’t wait to see it.

  • Did anyone catch the “Up” Cameo on the Simpson episode last night?

  • Michael J. Hayde

    I’m with Violet. “Wall-E” was a sweet, romantic love story; a refreshing change-of-pace from the usual animated gagfests. (The feature couldn’t have out-gagged “Presto” anyway.)

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to “Up.” I didn’t really catch the resemblance to Spencer Tracy – but having seen the trailers a couple of times, I don’t know how anybody can MISS the resemblance between Muntz and Kirk Douglas!

  • Blik

    ” I dont see why it gets so much negativity.”

    um…it was the single best reviewed major film–live action or animated–last year. Not much “negativity” there.

  • Chris J.

    On Disney –

    It’s a Brand, pure and simple.

    Stockholders don’t want to take chances – and they don’t want a CEO with “balls.” They want their stock prices to go up, and they want it done safely. Eisner was a stockholder darling when he was pulling in truckloads of money – it wasn’t until he was completely screwing Disney on the Pixar negotiations ($$$) that the stockholders ousted him.

    Lasseter isn’t going to change that. You may start to see some more interesting movies out of Disney- a generalized upgrade in story quality – but you’re NOT going to see anything like Wall-E or UP, that truly take chances and expand the medium, becasue those kind of films don’t fit into The Brand. And any film that starts out that way is only going to be watered down by The Brand until it resembles what the stockholders want.

    Just stop looking to Disney to give us the animation revolution we all seem to want. It’s coming from outside the House of Mouse – from independents.

  • “um…it was the single best reviewed major film–live action or animated–last year. Not much “negativity” there.”

    There was plenty here on the Brew. Between the people who disliked Wall-E, and the people who outright hated KFP, one could imagine that here on the cartoon brew, haters of all animation gather together to share their dislike of everything animated.

  • I loved Rattatouille & Wall*E. And I’m waiting to see UP with great anticipation.

    And I also thought the character was a homage to Spencer Tracy, which made it even cooler in my mind.

  • Creepy

    its spencer tracy and kirk douglas animated. reminds me of those lipton tea commercials that were awesome. hopefully more old time actors will be animated into new features

  • “here on the cartoon brew, haters of all animation gather together to share their dislike of everything animated.”


  • Patrick

    Word of warning; Jim Hill’s review blew a few plot points and the fate of some characters.

  • vzk

    “Did anyone catch the “Up” Cameo on the Simpson episode last night?”

    I was just going to post that :(

  • Personally I didn’t “hate” Wall-E and Ratatouille. I just didn’t like them as much as most of the people do. Yeah, Pixar is very good but labelling everything they do as a masterpiece would not be proper criticism. I think everything they have done so far has been good but there are things that I liked more than others.

    And I loved Kung Fu Panda…I even enjoyed Monsters Vs Aliens, though it was a step backwards…I wonder if we’ll see another DWKS movie as good as KFP in the near future. I’d like to see the day they manage to offer movies with the quality of Pixar but in their own tone ( a little more adult oriented and gag-based). I don’t know if they’d want or manage to do that, but it would be great to have good quality in two different styles.

  • RayRay

    I’m so syked to see UP and so is my 10 year-old daughter. Luckily, we have an excellent theatre here in Toms River, NJ that plays 3D movies. The days can’t go fast enough…

  • Saw it. The press notes indicate that Spencer Tracy was an inspiration for Carl with some Walter Matthau thrown in. They don’t mention Kirk Douglas being an inspiration for Charles but Kirk and Charles sure do look the same.


  • Chelsea

    I also just had the pleasure of seeing Up at an advanced screening (not in 3D mind you).
    It was excellent- go see it.

  • OtherDan

    Hey…Charles Mintz. You see, all that time you spend in cartoonland isn’t just about hanging onto the kid within. That’s a great observation. And, I bet you’re right. Does this spite extend beyond that? Oswald has reared his head here and there of late. I thought it was some kind of marketing ploy to exploit and revive the character. But, if that’s the case: how can he compete with the likes of Mickey Mouse, and why has it been so slow to roll out? Perhaps there is a hidden symbolism in his usage…hmmm.

    I think if dogs really are intelligent as the film depicts, then why can’t they fly biplanes? I don’t know why that was so jarring to people.

    The two things that bothered me was that Mintz should have looked and acted even older. And…make that one thing.

  • I was really impressed with this film. Pixar continues their tradition of protecting story, something more and more rare in these days of such dreck as Terminator Salvation and Monsters vs Aliens. I loved the newsreel opening (was that Teddy Newton doing the narration?) and I really loved the keen emotion. All in all, it shows why Pixar is the best: they know how to make original movies, they don’t follow trends… no Will Farrell or Jerry Seinfeld cameos here… and they don’t ever take the cheap way out. The closest thing they have to a dog is Cars which wouldn’t have seemed so bad had it not followed The Incredibles.
    I also enjoyed the cloud short feature. Pixar’s devotion to that art form is also something I really enjoy.

  • Walter Sobchak

    For some reason, after Muntz was finally introduced in the film, I equated that character with Kurtz from “Heart of Darkness” (Marlon Brando’s character in Apocalypse Now, so obviously not a physical resemblance). Just seemed to be a similarity.

  • Movie watcher in Texas

    I just watched Up with my family this morning. What a terrific movie! I makes you cry and laugh all the way through the movie – sometimes both at the same time! Way to go Pixar!

  • John

    Loved “Up”. I think it would be great for both adults and children. Spencer Tracy was definitely the model for the Frederickson character ( both looks and manner) and Kirk Douglas was the model for Muntz, though this would not be picked up on by most younger people.
    Comic portrayals in cartoons of well known people was fairly common in the 30’s and 40’s.