Sometimes the promise of technology can be misleading. “Up” is the first film from Pixar — the groundbreaking studio that revolutionized the animated feature — to appear using the latest 3-D technology. And yet it probably will be remembered best for being the funniest comedy made by the studio to this point.
“Up” is really funny, making it as much a comedy as a drama, about a little old man (voiced in his later years by Ed Asner) who we watch grow up, get married and, his lifelong partner sadly departed, take his house on a balloon ride to a remote South American waterfall. He promised his wife they'd go, and because that wasn't possible, the trip is one last act of defiance. He picks up a few passengers on the way, including a young aspiring Wilderness Explorer (Jordan Nagai), a prehistoric-looking bird and a modern-day mutt who talks via a high-tech collar (Bob Peterson, one of the writers, who co-created and directed “Up” with Pete Docter).
The structure is as complex as some of the jokes, with a thorough if quickly edited back story that adds a substantial introduction to the main tale. There are also a number of subplots, including one about the elderly man's childhood hero, a famed explorer (Christopher Plummer) he eventually meets and has a disagreement with.
Young children likely will enjoy more than just the bright colors cast by the balloons, the big bird and the action, but “Up” is curiously adult-centric. The movie is so bent on blending entertainment aimed at children and adults it might err toward the latter, producing at a packed recent screening more squeals and laughter from the grown-ups than from their wards.
Though the movie's climax includes much chasing and gravity defying, “Up” is surprisingly staid in its implementation of 3-D. Nothing lunges at the audience or careens at its heads. Disappointing, depending on your opinion, but in-your-face action montages are as obligatory in contemporary kids' movies as musical sequences were 30 years ago. “Up” has them, but is more interested in getting to know its characters, and making delightful fun of them, than tossing them around the screen — up, down or otherwise. (PG) 98 min. HHHHI S