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Up ups the Blu-ray ante with a pristine feature presentation and a stellar collection of supplemental items.

Adventure Is Out There!

Carl is his own hero rather than worshipping others
Carl is his own hero rather than worshipping others

Up ‘s first act is absolute perfection. It revolves around two kids, Carl and Ellie, a boy and a girl enamored with the exploits of Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer, a legend in his own right), a renowned globetrotter whose latest adventure, in Paradise Falls, “a land lost in time,” has reached a new level of excitement.

In something of an homage to King Kong, Muntz is seen in old, scratchy black-and-white newsreel footage unveiling his latest discovery to an enraptured theatre audience.

Bouncing off the walls with giddy childhood enthusiasm and robust imagination, Carl and Ellie dream out loud about the adventures they want to experience.

From there, the movie moves into a truly magical vignette of Carl and Ellie growing up — and old — together. It’s a marvelous piece of wordless, yet eloquent, storytelling. The images and the faces tell all.

Along the way, they drop spare change into their “adventure fund jug,” watching it add up as their financial source for grand expeditions. But then life takes its due course. The house needs repairs along with this, that and the other thing. There goes the fund. Time marches on.

Then Ellie dies. It seems the couple with dreams of adventure must leave them as just that: Dreams.

Paradise Lost

Perhaps Up ‘s biggest problem is its first act is so good, it can’t sustain its own wild ambitions. The second act veers off course, almost literally going to the dogs.

That’s when the elderly Carl’s own big, spur-of-the-moment adventure feels more like a letdown than a highlight.

Carl (Ed Asner, Lou Grant himself), along with his unwitting child companion, Russell, makes it all the way to Paradise Falls in the most fanciful of fashions: A flotilla of balloons tied to Carl’s old house give flight to his comfy domicile. Carl was basically being forced out of his house anyway, with modern development inching right up to his front lawn.

Paradise Falls itself is cool, but the rest of the terrain is surprisingly bland. And it’s hard to comprehend how the only animals in the not overly-vegetative area are a pack of dogs and a flock of flamingo-like birds. A more fully realized environment would’ve been the expectation for Pixar.

There is a sense of disappointment in that second act. But, in retrospect, perhaps it’s another Pixarian social commentary. In The Incredibles, for example, li’l Jack Parr was told he wasn’t allowed to excel, he wasn’t allowed to be all he could be because all of the kids had to win. Of course, last year Pixar hit a new high water mark in Wall*E by taking a broad swing at all of humanity and showing the future of people: Lazy, stupid blobs.

Here, the message is something along the lines of being skeptical of the hype. The reality of Paradise Falls wasn’t all that exciting compared to those old newsreel stories. More importantly, though, Muntz played up his exploits and what he saw, gaining extraordinary wealth before being exposed as a fraud. Through it all, Carl learns to be his own hero rather than worshiping others as heroes.

Blu-ray Extras

A stellar collection of supplemental items
A stellar collection of supplemental items

Ah. The silliness of marketing. The cornerstone Up release is the 4-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. There’s also a 2-disc DVD “deluxe” set that basically repackages this set’s discs 3 and 4. But why, O why do that? Amazon offers the 4-disc set at a dramatically reduced pre-order price of $19.99 (with the enticement of another $10 off with the purchase of another select title). The 2-disc DVD? Also on sale for $19.99. As for the movie-only DVD edition, it’s $14.99.

For those on standard DVD, go for Blu.

On a somewhat related note, Up arrived in theaters with much fanfare as Pixar’s first 3D release. There’s no 3D gimmickry on tap in this set, not even a mention of it in the featurettes. Of course, it’s not really a big loss. The results of tacking 3D onto an essentially 2D home video format have been splotchy at best. With the chatter increasing of a full-blown HD 3D home format moving to store shelves in 2010 (and the promise of Blu-ray 3D offering backward compatibility with the current Blu-ray format), it’s thoroughly reasonable to expect a 3D Up edition at some point in the fairly near future.

All that said, here’s what’s on the 4-pack.

Disc 1:

Partly Cloudy is the an animated short that accompanied Up during its theatrical run. It’s about the unlucky cloud that has to “birth” all the nasty things, like porcupines and alligators, for stork delivery. (5:46)

Dug’s Special Mission is a cute little animated short that basically tells the back story leading up to Dug meeting Carl and Russell. A lot of the humor is reminiscent of ol’ Looney Tunes scenarios. (4:40)

Adventure Is Out There!is a terrific mini-documentary about key Up personnel traveling to South America for some inspirational sightseeing. It’s a surprisingly unique and well done supplement that feels a bit like an IMAX nature documentary. A bit; unfortunately, a good portion of the travel photography is relatively low-def digital video. And there is a big boo-boo. On the Indiana Jones-like animated map of travel to South America, somebody misspelled Colombia. Tsk tsk. (22:17)

Alternate Scene: The Many Endings of Muntz chronicles the options considered for how Muntz meets his end. (4:56)

It’s also somewhat noteworthy a teaser trailer for next summer’s Toy Story 3is included with a smattering of other Disney promos. It’s not all that awesome; it’s just a humorous little teaser.

And, for the easily confused, there’s a one-minute segment on how to use Disc 4, the digital copy disc.

Disc 2:

A terrific collection of features exclusive to the Blu-ray release is included on the second disc. See the Blu-ray Exclusives section for a complete rundown.

Disc 3:

The third disc is a DVD version of Disc 1, stripped of the Blu-ray exclusives, naturally. In place of the Cine-Explore option, the DVD offers the audio portion of the commentary.

Those on Blu-ray might consider taking a look at this one out of sheer morbid curiosity. It’s kinda humorous that, while the Blu-ray menus offer lush balloon animation, the DVD offers a much less detailed animation featuring a water-color motif.

Disc 4:

The fourth disc houses a digital copy download of the movie for use on mobile devices.

Blu-ray Exclusives

Disc 1:

The main feature is accompanied by a Cine-Explore movie viewing option, which offers a running commentary with directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. It includes picture-in-picture imagery of original sketches, production art, behind-the-scenes footage and even Docter family photos. Dang! It’s mighty darn well done and it’s a lively, fast-paced chat-track with lots of worthwhile information. While the audio portion is also available on the DVD, the picture-in-picture portion of the track is exclusive to Blu-ray.

The first disc also includes BD-Live connectivity, the content of which was not active at the time of this review.

Disc 2:

The second disc includes a collection of well-done mini-documentaries; the content of each featurette is clearly identified by the title. All are recommendable, so dig in based on your topics of interest.

Geriatric Hero displays the extent to which Pixar goes in order to get things right and natural in regard to portraying the elderly protagonist. (6:24)

Canine Companions might also be entitled Enter the Dog Behaviorist. Yeah, the Pixar folks leave no bone unturned as they observe the canine set. (8:26)

Russell: Wilderness Explorer. Gosh. The first frames of this segment are of Peter Sohn, a Pixar Story Artist. Good Lord, man, you are Russell! This one’s particularly enjoyable as it tells the evolution of the kid co-star from concept to voice. (9:00)

Our Giant, Flightless Friend, Kevin. Relatively speaking, this one’s ho-hum and tells of the various concepts behind what is, in essence, Up ‘s MacGuffin. (5:04)

Homemakers of Pixar. Another example of the painstaking work Pixar puts into production design, including a miniature model of Carl and Ellie’s house that was built to test practical lighting and shadows. (4:38)

Balloons and Flight There were 10,286 — or so — balloons attached to Carl’s house. Cool. There’s also some cool information on Muntz’s ginormous dirigible. (6:25)

Composing for Characters. Composer Michael Giacchino takes center stage with insight into the musical themes behind the animated stars. (7:37)

Alternate Scene: Married Life includes some kooky concepts for the early going of Carl and Ellie’s romance. The end product is much, much better and sweeter. (9:15)

Up Promo Montage is a basically a reel of comic goofiness, an animated gag reel designed to drum up interest in the characters. (6:00)

Global Guardian Badge Game is an interesting concoction in which players earn the coveted Wilderness Explorer badge. Players earn points by correctly identifying countries on the map. (Note: Colombia is spelled correctly!) After earning a continent page, Russell offers some more insight into the region. For an easy example, try Australia. It’s funny stuff. And Pixar gets bonus points for creating a legitimately educational game that ties in perfectly with the overall Up theme.

Worldwide Trailers offers Theatrical Trailers #2 and #3. Hmmm... maybe #1 is an Easter Egg somewhere.

And, speaking of Easter Eggs, one has been found so far. On the main menu, attempt to move left (exit) from any of the options. An option for THE EGG appears. It’s a nice, short segment about an idea that was cut from the movie.

Picture and Sound

Pristine. Immaculate. Pick your own superlative of choice. The level of detail in the images is jaw dropping. And the amount of detail Pixar packs into even the mundane things, like fabric and various set pieces, is simply astonishing. Marvelous stuff is on view here.

The sound provides an elegant match to the visuals and the Blu-ray includes an impressive selection of audio specs. The star is the English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 ES track. But the disc also includes French and Spanish tracks in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, an English DTS-HD 2.0 option (for those viewing via standard TV output) and English Descriptive Video Service 2.0.

Also on board are subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired, French and Spanish.

For those in search of some fine tuning, the disc includes a Maximize Your Home Theater option, which is a series of tests for video and audio calibration.

The DVD version of the movie offers English 5.1, English 2.0 and English Descriptive Video Service 2.0.

Disc 2’s supplemental material offers a slew of additional subtitle options, including Portuguese and four languages for eastern audiences.

How to Use This Disc

Watch Up then, if you’re “up” for it, dig in for a second serving with the Cine-Explore option. Russell fans will also want to check out his featurette on Disc 2.