Raised, as so many of us were, on a rich movie diet of Disney's classic animated films, I am just now realizing how intensely frightening most of them tended to be at points. Sometimes, as with Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, or The Lion King, the terror comes somewhere in the middle. Then there's that select handful of films where the creepiness shows up right away – think of that eerie opening to Beauty and the Beast, or the sad horror of Finding Nemo and, of course Bambi.
I'm waxing philosophical about these super-dramatic moments less because of my own reaction to Up than that of the little boy who sat behind me in the theater. I'd been warned that the beginning of the film was very sad – boy was it – but the child behind me was definitely scared. About 10 minutes into the film, he whimpered in discomfort, reflecting the heartwrenching nature of what was unfolding onscreen in a way that only an innocent could – palpably feeling the unpleasantness without really understanding it. His mother, a wise filmgoer no doubt, informed him that the film hadn't really started yet. She was pretty much right.
The vast majority of Up is more delightful than heartwrenching (though there's some of that, and some more scary, along the way), but those first few sad,painful minutes were absolutely necessary to set up the motivation for the characters throughout. Such a decision – to maintain the integrity of the story even if it's difficult for much of the audience – not only pays off bigtime in Up, but it also reminds us of what these films can be when they're done with care and class. There may be an extra dimension involved, but Disney and Pixar have restored the dark, complex splendor of those animated classics we loved as children, and appreciate as adults.