Ask anybody under 30 and they will tell you that Pixar is the animation studio. But the company that has stunned us with now 10 lush and dazzling computer animated films is also the studio that tells stories from the margins, putting a sympathetic (if not human) face on a menagerie of aliens, freaks, and monsters. A box of forgotten toys, monsters who hide under our beds, Parisian sewer rats, and a broken down trash compactor are all transformed into heroes in Pixar blockbusters, which repeatedly recycle the trash of our nightmares into the treasure of our better angels, expanding our sympathetic imagination and inviting us to see in these freaks and outcasts "the bone of our bone and the flesh of our flesh."
This time out, however, Pixar has chosen a human freak for its unlikely hero. Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) is a grumpy 70-something widower who seems like a mix of Mr. Wilson and Boo Radley-just the sort of cantankerous codger neighborhood children like to tease and flee from, or their parents hope to put in nursing homes. In a culture addicted to beauty, Botox, and Viagra, wrinkly, worn, and cranky Carl is a monster who haunts our nightmares, a frightening reminder of the frailty of our bodies and dreams.
But in this tale Pixar has given the neighborhood crank a human face, peeling away the broken and wrinkled shell that frightens us so, and uncovering the youthful dreams and love of a Carl who-like the children in the audience-once hoped for romance and adventure.
And, wonder of wonders, it turns out that this cranky codger, worn down with decades of care and frustration, still has dreams and hopes, and is willing to take some extraordinary risks to go after them. The old man behind the wrinkled brow and pouty frown is not so different from us after all. He, too, wants to dream, to laugh, and to love. And like the attic toys, closet monsters, and sewer rats, he too is not simply a pile of trash.