Anyone who has seen any of the trailers knows that Carl Fredricksen (voice by Ed Asner), hitches thousands of toy helium balloons to his house and takes off for the wild blue yonder. The first part of the film gives us a very touching back-story as to why, which some reviewers have described as this year's best film love story. By the time Carl is ready for take-off, you understand his melancholy situation (including the very real trouble he's gotten into) perfectly and totally sympathize.
There are a number of very cool things about the film, among which is that the Venezuelan plateaus where much of the action happens are real, and are the setting for Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World," among other adventure stories. Much of the rest is fantasy, of course, although I found it good that in long shots of the airborne house, the apparent volume of the balloons holding it up seems actually big enough. Charles Muntz, who is loosely based on Lindberg and other daredevils and explorers, would have to be at least 105 years old at the time of the main action, but is at least Fredricksen's physical equal if not superior, without having found a fountain of youth--. Dirigible fans will love the "Spirit of Adventure," Muntz's huge and well furnished airship.
Like many Pixar films, the movie is full of homages, not least that "Carl Fredricksen", with his thick white hair and thick black glasses, resembles a cartoon of the late, great Spencer Tracy. "Carl" towing his house across the plateau is of course a nod to "The African Queen."
The movie's humorous aspects have greater roots in classic Warner Brothers cartoons than Disney. "Kevin", the rara avis that Muntz (Christopher Plummer) is obsessed with, is obviously a related species to The Do-Do from "Porky in Wackyland," and Dug (Bob Petersen) has a lot in common, including speech patterns, with a large, very literal-minded, dog that appeared in a couple of Bugs Bunny reels ("Foxy By Proxy"):
Bugs: Now wait a minute! What kind of tracks was you followin'?
Dog: --Train tracks.
Bugs: Well then, you must be trying to catch a train!
Dog: Yeah, yeah! That makes sense!
Dug is my favorite character. He is a lovable shaggy mutt, sweet natured, loyal, smart (for a dog) and has an electronic collar that lets him talk like Commander Data. What boy wouldn't want a dog like that?
Plummer as Muntz has fun chewing the scenery as the heroic adventurer decayed into obsessive madman. (The Muntz character also looks like Plummer--.) The major cast members are rounded out by Jordan Nagai who voices Russell, a weeble-shaped Asian American boy who's trying to find in scouting ("Wilderness Explorers") what he's missing from his absentee father. Russell is pretty much a genuine kid once you get past his comic ineptitude, who gets whiny, tired, and bored about when you would expect a real child his age to.
Excellent character voice acting and visualization all around. Beautiful Pixar visuals, and a plot with heart as we've come to expect.
Highly recommended for all ages, although cartoon violence (especially scary dogs) and adventure-movie action may be too intense for younger children.