Cannes film festival has liftoff with Pixar's Up

Pixar's latest animation combines hi-tech digital wizardry with old-fashioned solid storytelling to get the 62nd Cannes film festival off to a tremendous start

The Cannes film festival gets off to the most sublime flying start tonight with Up, an enchanting animation by Pete Docter from the Disney/Pixar studio, presented in ultra hi-tech digital 3D. It's the first time an animation has been chosen to open the festival, and it's certainly the first time for that extra dimension.

It really is a lovely film: smart, funny, high-spirited and sweet-natured, reviving memories of classic adventures from the pens of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne, and movies like Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life and Albert Lamorisse's The Red Balloon, though I sometimes felt that my heart was being warmed by tiny invisible laser-missiles fired from the screen and digitally guided directly into my thorax.

Ed Asner voices the role of Carl Fredricksen, a lonely, grumpy old widower and retired balloon salesman, with a square, irascible face surely inspired by Spencer Tracy. He lives all alone in his rickety old house which horrid tycoons want to raze to the ground to complete the expansion of some soulless mall/condo development: the voice of a well-meaning construction worker is provided by John Ratzenberger, once mailman Cliff on TV's Cheers, and now a talismanic presence in all Pixar animations.

It looks like the realtors and their lawyers have Carl beat, but he's not about to let them get their corporate mitts on his homestead, and he has a sensational plan. Carl ties thousands of multicoloured helium balloons to his roof and soon he and his little house are up, up and away, into the wild blue yonder. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to smile at this wonderfully surreal sight, gorgeously rendered on screen.

A prelude provides the bittersweet background to Carl's story. He and his childhood sweetheart Ellie were would-be explorers, inspired by the exploits of a flawed Lindberghian adventurer called Charles Muntz (richly voiced by Christopher Plummer). All through their married life they cherished dreams of some day leaving their home town and journeying to the lost world of Paradise Falls, deep in the mysterious South American jungles. But problems kept cropping up, including the heartache of childlessness, and they never made it. Now Carl figures he will honour his late wife's memory by sailing his airborne house right out to the South American Shangri-la they always hankered for. But to his astonishment, Carl finds he has a stowaway on board: an eight-year-old Scout called Russell, voiced by Jordan Nagai.

It's a terrific family adventure: the 3D presentation gives it a real boost, but this film is airborne because of the traditional strengths: story, characterisation and inventive animation with the old-fashioned values of clarity and simplicity. There's something else to ponder, too. Disney/Pixar's great rival DreamWorks put a few little anti-Disney digs in their great animation Shrek. Could the image of all those multicoloured balloons in this Pixar film be a cheeky appropriation of DreamWorks' balloon logo?

Either way, it is a tremendous film and a happy start to the festival: entertaining and visually dazzling.

• Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian's film critic


Peter Bradshaw at the Cannes film festival

The GuardianTramp

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