On our recent trip back from Walt Disney World, rain struck early, delaying our trip home severely. As the day dragged on and the road got seemingly longer, my mood turned sour and the will to drive left me. In these instances, I like to turn on a movie that fits my mood, if only to listen along and cheer up.
This time, I chose to start Up, the Pixar film that was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award after its release in 2009. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it’s not the best choice for a pick-me-up. The compelling story sucked me in, though, and the trip just flew by.
If you haven’t seen Up, it’s the story of Carl Fredrickson, an old man who ties his house to a large number of balloons and tries to float it to South America in order to fulfill a lifelong dream of his deceased wife. Along the way, he gets involved with a young Wilderness Explorer names Russell, a rare bird, a talking dog, and his childhood hero.
The first fifteen minutes of this film will break your heart, but the rest of the film is spent picking up the pieces. The opening sequence tells the love story of Carl and his wife, Ellie, who was an outspoken woman who dreamed of adventure. They meet as children, and a montage takes us from their wedding throughout the rest of their life. As is often in life, Carl and Ellie’s plans for adventure are continually put on hold to take care of life’s unexpected emergencies. Finally, as Carl is preparing to finally take them to Peru, Ellie passes away. If you aren’t crying by that point, you’re not human.
Once Carl decides to take off in his house and escape to South America, things get much more upbeat. Russell, the Wilderness Explorer who joins him, and Kevin, the rare bird that Russell finds, add a fantastic counterpoint to the grumpiness of Carl. Once the talking dog Dug appears, we have comic relief as well. The full compliment of characters makes a nice quartet.
This film appears simple and ridiculous on its surface, but there are many layers to it. The motivations of the characters are fairly clear, but also open to interpretation if you look at them through a different lens. On the surface, Carl is trying to find a way to pay tribute to his wife and live out the rest of his days in paradise. If you take a darker perspective, you could say that Carl is looking to accomplish the last thing he could, relocating his house to Paradise Falls, so he could die having accomplished one thing in his life.
Something about this film truly touches me. It’s difficult to watch, not because it’s bad, but because I think we all struggle with Carl’s issues. How many of us have put off something we have dreamed of because we lacked the money or the courage to pursue it? And how many of us have missed chances for happiness with someone for similar reasons? I venture to say that if you’re over 30, you’ve put your dreams on hold at least once.
What Up teaches us are two valuable lessons. First, it’s never too late for an adventure. Carl is old, but throughout the film, you see him become more spry and vibrant because he’s out there experiencing life. By the end of the film, he no longer needs his cane. Second, life is not just about a dream or a destination. It’s also about the journey, especially the people we touch along the way. That is the true genius of this film.
Contributed by: Ryan K. (NDD #137). Ryan is our resident film expert and creator of The Disney Film Project.