With such smash hits as "WALL-E," "Ratatouille" and "The Incredibles" behind them, the master storytellers at Pixar Animation figured they had nowhere to go but "Up."
That's the simple, two-letter title of the 10th cartoon creation from Pixar. The makers of "Up" offered a sneak peek of the comedy adventure to Hollywood reporters who were so enchanted they groaned in disappointment when the preview ended halfway through the film.
"Up," with Edward Asner providing the voice of a 78-year-old curmudgeon flying to South America in a house rigged with 10,000 helium balloons, promises to continue the impeccable track record of Pixar, whose releases all have been critical and commercial triumphs.
"People always ask, `When are you going to release a dud?"' "Up" director Pete Docter said in an interview after showing the first 46 minutes of the movie Tuesday night at Pixar's parent studio, the Walt Disney Co. "Every film at one point is a complete disaster, but we allow ourselves time to fix it."
The Pixar gang has brought a sense of human emotion to fantastical settings and characters with tales of playthings (the "Toy Story" movies), vehicles ("Cars"), insects ("A Bug's Life"), beasties ("Monsters, Inc.") and underwater creatures ("Finding Nemo").
With "Up," Pixar brings the fantastical to a story set in the human world. The movie opens with a heartbreaking montage laying out the joyous little lives of balloon peddler Carl Fredricksen (Asner) and the childhood sweetheart with whom he passed his decades.
Facing exile to a retirement home, widower Carl launches his house on a journey to Paradise Falls, a mythical South American land where he and his wife always dreamed of going.
Carl picks up unwanted companions along the way: a zealous 9-year-old Wilderness Scout who accidentally stows away on his porch; a giant bird with grand plumage and a sweet tooth; and a canine who's part of a gang of dogs outfitted with devices that hilariously translate their thoughts into English.
Asner offered the ideal mix of warmth and crankiness, Docter said.
"We needed a grouch, but underneath, someone you really felt for and really cared about," Docter said of Asner, best-known as a lovable grump on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant."
Due in theaters May 29, "Up" is the first Pixar film that will be released both in two-dimensional and three-dimensional versions. Computer-animated films are created in 3-D virtual worlds to begin with, so Pixar and distributor Disney are taking advantage of new projection systems that allow theaters to show movies in digital 3-D format.
While Docter and his collaborators are in the final rush to finish "Up," he also is dealing with a pleasant distraction resulting from Pixar's last movie, the sci-fi romance "WALL-E."
That film is the front-runner for the feature-length animation category at the Feb. 22 Academy Awards, and Docter also shares an original-screenplay nomination for co-writing the story for "WALL-E."
He has had to juggle his time between working on "Up" and attending such functions as last week's Oscar nominees luncheon.
"It's a good problem to have," Docter said.