As Alan notes, the best sequences in Up (and WALL•E) were those that 1) drew heavily from silent film and 2) dealt with adult subject matter: marriage, love, loss, disappointment, the onset of age. What the film really excelled at was tenderness, which contemporary cinema usually confuses with mawkish sentimentality. On the other hand, although I rather enjoyed the talking dogs (particularly Dug, who seemed a nearly perfect synthesis of the personalities of my family hounds), the film was at its weakest when doling out adventure and humor — in other words, when it worked within the boundaries of what is traditionally thought of as a children’s film. The “fun” elements weren’t ever so bad as to take away from the film, but they were the least essential. Increasingly, I think, Pixar’s sly trick has been to make adult movies with children’s film elements grafted on — exactly the inverse of the “family film” formula that’s dominated over the last decade.
And what I wonder — and hope for (I think) — is whether or not Pixar will ever chuck the kiddie elements altogether and make a movie that specifically targets adults. Yes, yes, part of their genius is their cross-generational appeal, which they really do pull off better than any other filmmakers. But these days, I also think the folks at Pixar are making better mainstream entertainment than nearly any other creators in any other medium, and given the paucity of satisfying adult drama in theaters these days, I’d love to see them work on a project that didn’t have to entertain the six year olds in the audience, that didn’t have to merely hint, however compellingly, at the sadness and joys of adult life.
It wouldn’t need to be R-rated or filled with sex and violence (though I don’t think I’d be bothered one way or another if it was), and they could — and should — work off of familiar themes. Ideally, it’d be a project with visual complexities suited to CGI. In fact, what I think I’d really like them to do is remake Fincher’s Benjamin Button, a dull, meandering, overly sentimental film that would’ve benefited immensely from both Pixar’s technical finesse and its deep grasp of the joys and disappointments of age. Obviously, this particular project is a pipe dream, but given the studio’s successes, they ought to be approaching the point where some of the creators — say, Brad Bird — have enough sway to expand into the world of movies made for adults that aren’t covert about their target audience.