As 2009 begins to come to a close and critics and pundits consider the movies that will ultimately make their Top Tens and Best Of lists, Up seems like a shoe-in for all of them. Effortlessly charming, deeply affecting and genuinely rousing, Pete Docter's follow-up to Monsters, Inc. is nothing short of spectacular. I'm especially reminded of this now that the film has arrived on Blu-ray, in no less than an epic four-disc set. But even as one of the best films of the year, is its home video iteration one of the best Blu-rays as well? Looking at the material contained (if also spread out) in this collection, I'm not so sure, even if everything on it nevertheless manages to make Up look like a masterpiece all over again.
Disc One features the film itself, two short features, and a modest but potent slate of extras. In terms of presentation, Up looks simply gorgeous, offering remarkable clarity and vividness no matter what's up on the screen, while the audio is muscular without being overwhelming. Meanwhile, the two shorts – "Partly Cloudy," which was attached to theatrical prints of Up, and the interstitial "Dug's Special Mission" – offer further adventures for viewers to check out once they've cried their eyes out watching the movie itself.
Additionally, the two featurettes, "The Many Endings of Muntz" and "Adventure is Out There," showcase specific aspects of the creative process that will probably be of most interest or importance to viewers: the first examines the way the filmmakers came up with the "villain"'s comeuppance, and what other options were available; and the second follows the creators as they journey to South America to visit the real-life tepui mountains that gave them inspiration when conceiving the film's picturesque vistas.
The Cine-Explore commentary, however, is the most remarkable extra included on Disc One. In addition to revealing the basic production details and design structure of the film, co-directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson examine the ins and outs of every single scene, talking about the way that little flourishes and plot points expand the scope of an entire relationship, or fit into the overall design of the film's look. Enhanced by storyboards, photographs and other research materials, this not only the best and probably most important bonus feature in the set, but it shows how and why Pixar's movies are so successful – namely by being careful, thorough, and thoughtful about every single aspect of what happens on screen.
On Disc Two, there are seven documentaries, one about each aspect of the cast and structure of the film. These include "Geriatric Hero," which looks back at the reason that Carl became the film's protagonist, and then gets inside how he was designed and created; "Canine Companions," which offers a biological, scientific, and finally emotional look at the way the filmmakers developed the humans' fur-covered counterparts; and "Russell: Wilderness Explorer," which not only offers footage of Jordan Nagai, the adorable little kid who provided the voice of Russell, but shows how Docter and co. got such a great performance out of him.
Additionally, there's "Our Giant Flightless Friend, Kevin," which shows how the artist refined a limitless slate of ideas into the odd, ostrichlike creature that enchanted Russell (and us in the process); "Homemakers of Pixar," which chronicles the literal construction of Carl's house; "Balloons and Flight," about the airborne vehicles (and of course houses) that transported the characters to faraway lands; and finally, "Composing For Characters," which follows Michael Giacchino through the creation of his score for the film.
Each of these is fascinating, but all together, they offer an almost comprehensive look at the creation of the movie, not only because they show all of the background work and development time that audiences see on every making-of featurette they've ever seen, but because, again, the footage reveals how meticulous and personally-attached are each of the people who helped put the film together. It's precisely this approach which produces such a special moviegoing experience, one that engages and entertains and truly moves audiences.
Also on Disc Two is "Married Life," a storyboarded sequence that was originally intended to take the place of the silent introduction to Carl and Ellie's lifelong romance; while what's most interesting is what stayed the same, there are some terrific little jokes that were just as funny in rough form as if they'd been finished, and this offers additional dimensionality and evidence of the thoroughness of the filmmakers. And finally, there's the "Global Guardian Badge Game," which I admit is sucked at, but it's a fun little adventure hosted by Russell that kids will enjoy playing.
Unfortunately, calling this set a "Four Disc" collection is true only from a literal standpoint; while there are indeed four separate discs, Discs Three and Four are (respectively) a standard-definition copy of the film and a digital copy for computers. Neither of them have different or additional content that expands the material on the high-definition discs, although the SD DVD does feature some of the bonus material from them. While I respect the choice to include SD versions of the film as a forward-thinking effort to introduce HD content into homes, they don't serviceably expand the overall content of the collection, and are generally superfluous for anyone who already owns a Blu-ray player.
That said, Up's presentation and bonus content are not only otherwise commendable, but fully captivating and well worth adding to any DVD or Blu-ray collection. And ultimately, Up is just such a wonderful movie that even if it was alone it would probably still be a must-have release. But in this set, its home video release bridges the gap between standard and high-definition, delves into every aspect of the movie's making, and offers the best presentation of the movie you will possibly see on the small screen.