It has been said that those who observe literary times claim there has never been a "Great American Novel." While I would not presume to debate such topics, I would offer that, to the extent a film narrative can be equated to a literary excursion, that the "Great American Movie" has been made - and from an entirely unexpected source - the Disney/Pixar Studios in its wonderful new film, "Up."
"Up" tells the tale of Carl Fredricksen, and it is in that tale that Pixar immerses us an astonishingly introspective and unyieldingly human story of youth, age, love, hope, loss, and adventure. The first ten minutes of "Up," which ironically holds the least dialog, carry us through a diorama of Fredricksen's life, from an adventure-seeking youngster, to a hope-filled married man, to a widowed and seemingly curmudgeonly elderly man.
Accompanying him on his elder-stage life is young Russell, an overly eager Wilderness Scout desperate to claim one final achievement badge by offering assistance to a senior citizen. Wasting no characters, Up gives us a glimpse into Russell's young life as a child of divorce, providing a common bond of loss that ultimately unites him with Fredricksen in their adventure.
Few films that aspire to comment on the human condition can claim to have drawn on so many elements that will resonate with so many people, which is precisely why "Up" is destined to become one of Pixar's classics. We see Fredricksen's crossed-heart promise to take his love Elly to South America, yet see the dream slip away unwittingly as time and life intervene. We share their pain as hopeful images of babies in the clouds turn to disheartening medical realities. We feel Carl's sadness as we see Elly's health slip away before he is able to make good on his South American promise, and understand that the external curmudgeon is facade for the guilt of a promise unkept, for adventures unexperienced. And we wish Elly's "Adventure Book" did not stop at the page entitled, "Things I'm Going To Do;" fortunately, as Carl's adventure nears its end, we find those pages not so empty afterall, with a gentle reminder that life's greatest adventures are often realized in the unplanned mundane rather than the orchestrated spectacular.
But make no mistake - "Up" is no turgid tale of sadness or melancholy. Mixed with the human tale is a delightful fantasy of Carl's life as a balloon salesman, with his cache of unsold floaters serving as the engine to launch his home skyward, on a course to South America, with Russell as his unwitting stowaway, along with a irresistable canine buddy they encounter along the way that younger children (and many adults) will want to take home instantly.
UP is another creative masterpiece from the artists at Pixar, once again demonstrative of the decided superiority in animated storytelling they hold. Pixar's hardly secret advantage is not in the astonishingly credible electronic realities they create, but in the wonderful characters that inhabit them, and in the ways those characters resonate with each of us. Who else could mix an old man, a little boy, and a house propelled around the world by helium-filled balloons, yet make it an introspective, touching, and still humorous adventure? Certainly, only Pixar.
And that is the grand gift we all enjoy.