Pixar animation director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera brought some winter cheer to Canadian press this week when they unveiled 45 minutes of in-progress footage of their latest animation masterpiece, Up. The film, which concerns the adventures of Carl (Ed Asner) and young Wilderness Adventurer Russell (newcomer Jordan Nagai), was screened with some temp sound and score but near-complete animation - though that didn't stop director Docter from making notes during the screening. It's this attention to detail that has defined Pixar's unprecedented run of success, and Up certainly won't be the first flop for the company. The primary reaction to seeing the first 45 minutes of Up is a plaintive "but then what happens?"
"The idea of escaping, what would it be like if you could just get away from the world," is how Docter explained Up's genesis in a Q&A following the screening; retired balloon salesman Carl attaches 10,000 helium balloons to uproot his house and fly it to Brazil. "We started with the idea of a floating house and it went from there." With actors Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau as their models - "there's something sweet about these grumpy old guys" - Up opens with a montage of Carl's heartbreakingly romantic marriage before he resolves to literally uproot himself.
From a technical standpoint, Pixar's animation department continues to push the boundaries of animation - the sight of 10,000 balloons unfolding from the top of Carl's house is breathtaking. But unlike recent Pixar efforts Wall-E and Ratatouille, Docter was keen on a less realistic look for Up. Since the story follows Carl on an adventure to Brazil, the animation team took a field trip to the real-life site that inspired their story - and what they found was even more spectacular than they could animate. "We saw plants and rock formations in Brazil that we couldn't use," Docter explains. "Reality is so far out, if we put it in the movie you wouldn't believe it."
In terms of story, Up seems likely to move in unexpected directions; it co-stars Christopher Plummer, whose character was not introduced in the 45 minutes screened. Having seen about the first third of the film, it stopped at a point just when the narrative world was about to blossom - the equivalent of seeing Wall-E up to the moment when the little robot journeys into space.
Up will be the first Pixar film conceived to be screened in 3D and will open in both 3D and traditionally on May 29.