May 29, 2009 at 9:07 am

Tom Long: Film Review: 'Up' -- GRADE: A+

Tom Long: Disney/Pixar's magical 'Up' is the year's best film yet

The exhilarating, surprising, thoroughly magical 'Up' is the year's best film yet

An old man (voiced by Ed Asner) and a boy (Jordan Nagai) fly to Brazil in a house lifted by balloons in the wonderful Pixar film, "Up." (Pixar)

There are not words enough to express how good "Up" is.

This film is full reminder of why we applaud. Some things just transcend verbal explanation. All you can honestly do is cheer.

So let the cheering begin. Pixar has outdone itself again, and considering the animation studio's last two films were the splendid "Ratatouille" and "WALL-E," that's some serious outdoing.

Poignant, inventive, breathtaking, hilarious and hugely entertaining, "Up" is also tremendously brave in that it features an old man as its central hero. And not a tough Clint Eastwood-with-a-gun old man; this guy's a broken-down, portly, creaky, box-faced ancient grump.

His name is Carl Fredricksen, and he's voiced beautifully by Ed Asner. We actually meet Carl when he's a little boy dreaming of adventure, and we're there when he discovers his life's partner, Ellie, another dreamer. Together they hope to run off to a remote paradise in the jungles of Brazil.

"Up" then delivers the finest piece of pure cinema since, well, "WALL-E." Using the power of pictures and eschewing dialogue, it paints a series of vignettes that trace Carl and Ellie's life together.

They go to work at a zoo -- she cares for the animals, he sells balloons. They share pain and love and financial trials. And their great dream of an adventure keeps getting postponed.

And then they're old.

And then Ellie dies.

This graceful, visually eloquent and emotionally rich sequence may be the best few minutes of film you'll ever see.

When the dialogue returns, the world is crushing in on Carl. The house he and Ellie shared is surrounded by faceless developers thirsty for the promise of the land it's on. And eventually it looks as if Carl will have to move to an old folks' home and leave behind all that he and Ellie had together.

But Carl has other ideas. So on the day he's supposed to be carted off to a home, he instead unleashes thousands of helium-filled balloons tied to the house.

And it floats off toward that paradise in Brazil he and Ellie always meant to visit.

There's only one catch. A young Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) was under his porch when the house went skyward. Now Russell is on his way to Brazil as well.

Most of this is shown in the trailers and ads for "Up," and it's undeniably magical stuff. But it's only the beginning for director Pete Docter (he co-wrote and directed "Monsters Inc." and co-wrote "WALL-E") and writer-co-director Bob Peterson (he wrote "Finding Nemo").

Add in a host of talking dogs, a giant wounded bird, a demented and dangerous old explorer (Christopher Plummer), a giant dirigible and enough thrills to give Indiana Jones a heart attack, and you're still just touching the surface of what "Up" offers.

This is a film that manages to be about dreams deferred and grabbing the moment while still acknowledging the satisfaction of simple domesticity. It says you can have it all, but you don't have to; each adventure should be its own reward, leading to the next.

But mostly "Up" is exciting and fun, the last thing you'd expect with an old coot as protagonist. Still, once that house takes off into the clouds, Carl rediscovers the power of his own heart.

As with all Pixar films, "Up" will play well with kids, but it's certainly not intended for them alone. This is mature, innovative, energizing filmmaking of the highest order.

The best film of the year? Absolutely. Take this ride. It may stay with you forever.

Detroit News Film Critic tlong@detnews.com">tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

Sky high

Think "Up," the latest film from Pixar, will make money? Well, here's the domestic earnings of the past five Pixar releases:
$224 million: "WALL-E" (2008)
$206 million: "Ratatouille" (2007)
$244 million: "Cars" (2006)
$261 million: "The Incredibles" (2004)
$339 million: "Finding Nemo" (2003)