Cranky septuagenarian widowers are supposed to play bowls on Wednesday afternoons, drive as slowly as they speak, and send handwritten letters to the local community newspaper complaining about the quality of the toilet paper in shopping mall restrooms.
They’re not expected to tie thousands of helium balloons to their house and float off to the untamed jungles of South America, encountering chocolate-loving oversized birds and talking dogs on arrival.
But since when have Pixar done the expected? From a plastic action figure convinced he’s an intergalactic space ranger to a lonely robot obsessed with ‘Hello Dolly!’, 78-year-old Carl Fredriksen is their latest unlikely hero. All that’s not surprising: both he and his story comprise equal parts technical genius and heart.
The secret is in the simplicity. The strikingly detailed animation favours stylised caricature over realism. Carl is essentially a grouchy shuffling square; his unlikely travelling companion, hyperactive eight-year-old Russell, resembles a bouncing ball; and feathered friend Kevin is basically a four-metre emu in an Hawaiian shirt.
That minimalism extends to the subtle 3D effects ? eschewing the usual point-at-the-screen crassness ? and the old-guy-drags-house-across-plateau plot. When someone even more cantankerous than Carl turns on them, the retired balloon salesman and young Wilderness Explorer who just wants his Assisting-the-Elderly-badge must escape.
Clearly not much of a story but, like the nuanced visuals, it’s all in the details. Co-directors and ‘Monsters Inc.’/’Finding Nemo’ alumni Pete Docter and Bob Peterson provide the laughs with gentle jokes ? Kevin turns out to be female; the cultured canines bring an entirely new meaning to the term “housetrained”. As the action overtakes the adventure, they serve up the fun through unexpected and unpredictable moments of (measured) mayhem. And, with carefully considered character revelations, they ensure the pensioner (voiced by Hollywood veteran Ed Asner) and pipsqueak (enthusiastic first-timer Jordan Nagai) endear themselves to each other. And to us.
So when Carl learns to live in the present, forsaking life-long dreams and his need to escape reality, it’s touching rather than trite ? and the only appropriate conclusion to a classic cartoon that’s sweet, not smartass.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.