The first 10 minutes of Pixar's fantastical 3-D animated adventure "Up" are a sublime testimonial to the purity and magic of the cinema. I know because I was a sobbing basket case by Minute 11.
We are introduced to Carl and Ellie, who meet as little kids and fervid fans of controversial world explorer Charles Munz. They grow up and marry each other in the blink of a few scenes. Ellie becomes pregnant, then, as the film's rosy hues cool and Michael Giacchino's music turns melancholy, Ellie's dreams of motherhood vanish, leaving nothing but the empty baby stroller that a sad Carl had purchased.
The years flip by until Carl, now bent over with white hair, a bulbous nose and square glasses, remains in his house, surrounded by memories of Ellie, the girl who never fulfilled her dream of traveling to see South America's impressive Paradise Falls, the place where their childhood hero, Charles Munz, had explored.
This simple, superbly rendered opening is almost wordless, and, like the first 22 minutes of Pixar's "Wall·E," evokes the raw emotional power of a classic silent movie, this time with Giacchino's evocative score giving the story a distinctly French, romantic flair.
The beginning of "Up" comes across with such subtle force, you might wonder how the rest of the movie can possibly match it. It can't.
"Up" - directed by Pete Docter of "Monsters, Inc." (and codirected by Bob Peterson) - offers many moments of visual amazement and fast-paced action, yet, it falls just short of Pixar classics "Wall·E," "Finding Nemo," "Ratatouille," "Toy Story" and even, I would argue, "The Incredibles."
Eventually, "Up" evolves into the most cartoony of the Pixar movies, even cartoonier than 2006's "Cars," by having Carl make 65-year-old Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones look like a novice AARP action hero.
Now a hermit-like curmudgeon, Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) spends his time in his quaint, well-kept house, surrounded by monstrous modern high rises under construction. A fight with a worker results in a court order for Carl to go into assisted living. But he rebels by inflating a zillion balloons through his chimney, so many balloons that the house breaks free of its foundation and takes to the skies.
Setting a course for South America, Carl barely eases into his chair before he hears a knock at his door.
It's Russell (Jordan Nagai), a terrified Junior Wilderness Explorer who wanted to earn a badge for helping old people across a street. Now, the inadvertent stowaway figures he'll help Carl cross the continent to fulfill his late wife's dream of seeing Paradise Falls.
At this point in "Up," a Saturday morning cartoon action plot kicks in with talking dogs, a standard-issue evil villain and an endangered species.
Munz (Christopher Plummer) has become an obsessed nut job hunting for a rare South American bird, one that comically befriends Russell and Carl. Russell names the brightly colored bird "Kevin." Meanwhile, Munz invents a voice box that can translate the thoughts of his hunting dogs into speech.
"Up" has great fun at the expense of canine attention span deficiency, and it pits the elderly Carl against his one-time hero as they leap through the air with the grace and speed of ninja warriors.
Imagine Spencer Tracy in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" as Jackie Chan. That about covers it.
Note: Although "Up" has been filmed in 3-D, its 3-D elements are extremely restrained, so much that you don't really lose much visual impact by watching it in a 2-D format.
Plus, you won't lose about 20 percent of the screen illumination by wearing those polarized lenses.
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Delroy Lindo
Directed by: Peter Docter and Bob Peterson
Other: Walt Disney Pictures release. Rated PG. 96 minutes.