Pixar's first attempt at a feature where humans are the central characters is a solid success, if falling slightly below their very best work. Carl (Asner) lives alone since the death of his wife and lifelong companion, Ellie, and regrets never being able to fulfill a promise to take her to South America, in the footsteps of explorer Charles Muntz (Plummer), whom they both idolized as kids. When faced with an imposed move to a retirement home, Carl rebels and uses balloons to turn his house into a an airship. Unknown to him, when he lifts off, stuck on the porch is Russell (Nagai), a Wilderness Explorer who just wanted to help Carl, in order to get his 'Assisting the Elderly' badge. The two do succeed in reaching their destination, where they meet Dug, a talking canine (Peterson), as well as Kevin, a multicolored flightless bird. However, Muntz, who has been hunting for Kevin for decades, isn't quite the hero Carl expected.
The handling of emotion here is impeccable, with Carl's relationship to Ellie - both before and after her death - quite beautifully portrayed. It's also very refreshing to see a major Hollywood film with an old person, not only as the central character, but also his nemesis: that's very different from an old person trying to look young [coughIndiana Jonescough]. It's a tribute to the skill of Docter and Asner, that the character feels real and sympathetic, despite an approach that could easily be described as grumpy. The humour and action flow as naturally from the characters as usual with Pixar; if the film has a weakness, it's in the animation, which just doesn't seem as jaw-droppingly detailed as previous productions, particularly in the landscapes, which tend to look more like something from the second-tier of CGI, such as the Ice Age films. While hardly a massive disappointment - as always with animation, it's the story and characters that are more important than the number of polygons - it does keep this from being quite up there in the pantheon of the studio's greatest works.