I am breathless. This is an extraordinary film. The previews hadn’t told me much: an old guy attaches balloons to his house and floats away. But in retrospect I love that so much is left out of the previews. Too many films give away all their best material in the trailers. Much of what makes this film great isn’t in the individual scenes, but the cumulative story line. The opening five minutes, which is pretty much a montage of 70 years of a man’s life, is a complete film in itself. We see a little boy and his fascination for adventuring, his meeting a like-minded girl, their marriage and life together (through both good and bad), her death, and him becoming a grumpy old man. It’s beautiful, poignant, funny, heartfelt, and absolutely wonderful. It’s also almost entirely wordless, so the story is conveyed via the visuals. If the film had ended right there I could have gone home happy!
But the film continues, with the old man doing the balloon thing and going off on his adventures in South America — but what makes that significant is entirely due to his relationship with his late wife. Why do we care about an old man going ballooning? Because his wife dreamed of adventuring all her life but they never got around to doing it. This is his making up for a 70-year-old promise to the little girl he met, and your heart just goes out to this wonderful old man. But of course the folks at Pixar are absolute master storytellers (they don’t put a foot wrong in this movie) and we see how the old man changes and grows, due to a little boy he meets and the adventures they share. It’s magical. If you can watch this without tearing up at least once somewhere, you don’t have a heart. That’s not to say it’s a weepy film: it’s mostly comedy, but that lightheartedness just makes the tender scenes that much more powerful and emotional. The adventure itself is wild and wonderful, just the perfect mix of silly humor and real danger (the obstacles the old man faces are not for the faint of heart at all, as this film actually shows death and even blood in a couple places). The bottom line is that this is a story you will fall in love with and you’ll watch with bated breath rooting for the old man to succeed. Absolutely an instant classic, a film we’ll still be amazed with a hundred years from now.