It is appropriate that Carl, the square-faced and cantankerous protagonist of "Up," met his true love Ellie when he was just a child. Pixar do what they do based on this simple, beautiful premise -- they treat children with the emotional and intellectual capacity of adults. And, on top of this, they respect that capacity. So we are given a deep love between Carl and Ellie, their life goals, the subsequent inability to accomplish those life goals, pregnancy (depending on how you interpret the images), loss of their child, and Ellie's death all in the first twenty minutes.
"Up" is the most emotionally complex film in the current box office top ten not because it is falsely labeled as a kids movie, but because it treats kids as all audience should be treated -- as people capable of coping with love, tragedy, and everything in between.
Pixar is able to get away with all of this precisely because they are assumed to be making kids movies. Which, in a way, they are. In the same breath, though, they are using the 'kids movie' moniker as a way to slip under the radar and avoid the practically required stupidity of an 'adult' movie, or the nearly barren territory of 'adult cartoons.' Rather than embracing this irony with an exasperating wink as Dreamworks so often does, Pixar instead balances combinations of emotions that require only character, comedy and design.
From what I can tell, Pixar is the only company consistently doing this, and with phenomenal results. I see "Up" and I realize that animation is the forefront of experimentation not just in form but in emotion. I watch it and love every minute. I come out of the theater and want to find a pencil, learn to draw, and create great works of comic and animated art. There are few movies that make me feel like this, let alone animated ones, and I am so happy to have seen one this year. And my God, how well they do it.
As Carl's roof bursts with balloons and his house ascends past the windows of the adjacent building, we cut inside a windowed apartment where a little girl plays with her toys. She watches in awe as her walls and carpet glow with a kalaeidescope of colors. Her room is illuminated, and for a moment she's inside of a moving rainbow. She turns around and throws herself up against the window to watch Carl's house float by. I cannot think of a better scene to illustrate what Pixar does to its audience. To say that they only have this effect on children is disingenuous. I am in that room, too.
(art courtesy of the Up Color Script via Lou Romano's blog)