Visually vibrant 'Up' soars

It's nice to know that in these pessimistic, no-one-is-promised-tomorrow times, we can count on a few things never letting us down.

And Pixar is one of them.

In this decade, has there been a film studio with a more impeccable track record than Pixar? (And yes, I remember "Cars." But even that had its moments.) I'm sure most of Pixar's films will end up on critics' top-10-of-the-decade lists before the year is done. (I know "The Incredibles" already has a spot on mine.) And there's a pretty good chance the brand-new "Up" will appear on some of those lists.

"Up" is just as visually wondrous, narratively clever and emotionally affecting as Pixar's previous films. It has a sweetheart of a protagonist in Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner), a square-jawed, 78-year-old, Spencer Tracy look-alike man who lives in a state of stubborn grouchiness, refusing to give up his house to land developers, even when they've built a whole metropolis around it.

Eventually, the developers get their way when Carl is court-ordered to vacate the premises after he has a scuffle with a construction worker. Carl isn't giving up that easily. Remembering the promise he made to his late wife and childhood sweetheart Ellie, balloon vendor Carl straps his home with thousands of helium balloons and floats the whole abode off to Paradise Falls in South America.

"Up" already has my vote for funniest comedy of the year, as director Pete Docter ("Monsters, Inc.") and screenwriter/co-director Bob Peterson ("Finding Nemo") pad the movie with enough ingenious sight gags and unexpectedly uproarious moments to make adults dig this just as much as kids. Most of the comedy is provided by Russell (Jordan Nagai), a roly-poly, eager-beaver boy scout Carl unknowingly takes with him.

"Up" also vividly serves up some high (no pun intended) adventure, as Carl and Russell eventually land near Paradise Falls and have to contend with Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), a deranged, Kirk Douglas-resembling adventurer who just happens to be Carl's childhood idol, and his pack of rabid, talking dogs (trust me, it's funnier than it sounds) as they hunt for an elusive, colorful, giant bird Carl and Russell just happen to embark upon in the Venezuelan jungle.

"Up" is far from perfect. There's some looseness in the character development (if Carl's in his late 70s, then how old is the automatically villanous Muntz? 110?) as well as in the predictably energetic climax, which didn't seem as definite as I expected it to be. (Maybe Docter is leaving the door open for an "Up" sequel -- "Down," anyone?)

The movie hits so many right notes both comedically (those dogs!) and emotionally (the backstory involving Carl and his wife is certain to get viewers right in the cockles), it seems pointless to quibble about such flaws. Whether you see it in Disney Digital 3-D or plain ol' 2-D (which I did), you'll be impressed by "Up" - not just as a movie, but as yet another example of how Pixar can do no wrong.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer