Directed By: Pete Doctor
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai and Bob Peterson
Screenplay By: Bob Peterson and Pete Doctor
Original Release: May 29, 2009
Many people have a horror film that they love but refuse to watch because it simply terrifies them far too much. For me, Up represents a similar problem. I love this film. In fact, it often rivals Ratatouille as my favorite of the Pixar canon. Yet, I rarely watch it because I consider it the film that ultimately broke me. Before Up, I didn’t cry at movies. While my mother or friends blubbered beside me, I was stone cold in the face of emotions. Up changed all of that. From start to finish, I cried the whole way through. Then, to make matters worse, I went back the next day to rewatch the film with another group of friends in the theater, and cried the whole way through again. This film somehow always manages to reach into my soul and poke. Even while watching the film for this write-up, I fell apart, weeping more than once. Yet, despite my desire to not watch this film for fear of feeling my feelings on the outside, it still remains one of my favorites. Let’s find out why.
Up kicks off with easily one of the most depressing starts to any film ever. Essentially, we watch a young boy meet the girl of his dreams, have an amazing life with her, fail to have children and then ultimately she passes, leaving him alone in the world to be bitter and hateful. Carl Fredrickson might just be my spirit animal. He doesn’t want people touching his things. He doesn’t like to go outside and he talked to photos on the wall that can’t talk back. I understand Carl. I understand. Enter Russel, a boy with no father figure who is simply looking to help others in hopes of impressing his father. These two make quite possibly the most oddly matched pair of any Pixar film, and they do it wonderfully.
Of course, all of this comes to a head when Carl decides to finally make good on his promise to take his wife to South America, a childhood dream. He sets up roughly a billion balloons and launches his house skyward on the greatest adventure of his life. Unfortunately, Russel happens to be on the porch and now the two are stuck with each other. There is something so grand and majestic about that moment when the house takes off. The scenery and colors of it all just pop and in all of film, I am hard pressed to find a moment quite like this one. I think if someone told you that they were going to lift up their house with balloons, you wouldn’t be able to imagine it, but here we see it done perfectly and its awe inspiring.
Despite this fantastical nature, this is a film that is dealing with very real issues. Absent fathers, the belief that elderly can’t live on their own, loss and tragedy. This film touches on a lot of fine points while never seeming to feel quite as preachy as something like Wall-E. Of course, eventually we reach South America where things become even more fantastical. Giant birds roam the landscape and dogs with collars that allow them to talk are everywhere. The whole thing feels like a very different sort of Jules Verne novel and the promise that “Adventure is Out There,” always makes us want to see what sort of crazy shenanigans are waiting around the next corner.
I couldn’t possibly write this article without expressing my extreme love for Dug the Dog. He might just be one of my favorite characters in all of Disney. He’s lovable and cute, sure, but his loyalty is something worth noting. “I was hiding under the porch because I love you.” He’s a character that has undying faith and one that is beaten down by his friends for being different, yet in the end, that difference is what makes him triumph. It’s not something new to these films but it is a good reminder that what others see as our biggest flaws are probably are best features and the things that really make us shine.
At its core, Up is a story about loss, grief and renewal. Though its told through the eyes of an old man who doesn’t know how to get on after his wife passes, it really is a tale of how we keep living once someone we love has passed. And its not easy. Sometimes it requires a long journey, a ludicrous idea and a realization that we are our own hero. Sometimes it requires talking dogs and crazy old men in the jungle. But the fact of the matter remains, we can’t start having our next adventure until we close the book on our last one.
The beginning of this film makes me cry but the moment with the book near the end makes me sob. When Carl suddenly realizes that living with him was Ellie’s biggest adventure, something profound happens. He realizes that she didn’t miss out. He didn’t break a promise to her. He allowed her to live her life to the fullest. They had an amazing adventure together. “Thanks for the Adventure, now go have one of your own.” That’s so powerful. Don’t let the loss of someone be the end of you. Celebrate the times you had and then let go so that you can make the best out of what you have left. We only have so much time. Don’t regret your life. Live your life. That is the real message of Up.
Even writing about this film makes me cry. Seriously, if this was a paper journal it would be covered in tears right now. But that’s what makes Up so special. In a film about crazy birds, tiny mailmen and talking dogs, Up reminds us that life is fragile and amazing all at the same time. So do me a favor and just for today, go outside, take a breath of fresh air and go have a mini-adventure all your own. Don’t tell me you can’t or you’ll get to it later. Just go do it. Adventure is out there.
Next Up: Toy Story 3