TACOMA, Wash. – I watched the film “Up,” just before I went to bed the other night.
It’s one animated movie I haven’t watched very often. I’ve seen it maybe three times since it’s release in May 2009. I was feeling a little stressed and wanted to spend a little time with some old friends.
For those of you who have not seen it yet, Pixar’s tenth film – and number two for Pixar storyteller Pete Docter – tells the unique story of Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a retired ballon salesman who decides shortly after the passing of his wife to rig his entire house with the helium-filled objects and floats away to Paradise Falls in South America.
As young Ellie (Elie Docter, the director’s daughter) put it, “It’s America, but south!”
But Carl is not alone. A young, over-eager Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai), sneaks aboard the house just before it takes off.
The boy is bound and determined to assist Carl with just about anything to earn the last of his badges. The appropriatly titled “Assist the Elderly” badge, each looks very much like my old Girl Scout patches.
Over the years, I’ve listened to others tell me how you could see a movie, without actually watching it. I never understood this until now.
True, I had seen “Up” before, but I have never watched it until now.
While the entire film is brilliant, the part you really must pay attention to is the beginning. The first twenty or thirty minutes of the film that shows the life Carl and Ellie Fredricksen shared together. The entire story hinges on the couple’s truly amazing relationship.
The structure is very similar to Frank Capra’s classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” If you don’t pay close attention to the beginnin, nothing else in the film makes sense.
This part builds on Carl and Ellie’s relationship; from when they first meet as little kids, to their marriage and careers, to their attempt to have children, to their life as senior citizens, and finally after Ellie’s funeral.
When I watched this part the other night, I almost started crying, because I never truly realized until that moment how beautiful and special and rare their relationship actually was.
And I’m not alone, reportedly, storyteller John Lasseter had tears in his eyes by simply listening to Docter’s pitch. Several user reviews on imdb.com and other sources reported the same thing.
Although Carl is a fisty older fellow, he’s really shy and laid back for much of his life. Ellie’s the exact opposite, she’s loud and boisterous. She even admitts to ripping out a page of a library book just to get at a map of Paradise Falls (she was only about eight at the time).
So completely bubbling with enthusiasm for the world around her that I found myself deeply saddened when she passed. It was like a bright light had just gone out forever. I never had that feeling before.
When I understood this, I understood Carl a little better too.
His own light had gone out; and he was despirate to keep it shining. To somehow keep Ellie alive with him. Carl’s gruff attitude for much of the film is just a show. It masks how lost and alone without her that he actually feels.
At it’s heart, “Up” is about moving on. Not forgetting the past – or those memories that made it so special – but realizing that a part of your life is over. Things are going to be different from now on.
For much of the story, Carl still carries on as if Ellie was still alive. He even talks to her from time to time (that gave me a lump in my throat). He needs to move on, but he doesen’t really know how to.
You need not look further than Charles Munz (Christopher Plummer), the 1930s-era explorer who pioneered Paradise Falls, and greatly admired by both Carl and Ellie, for a glimpse at what could have happened.
At the beginning of the film, Charles is stripped of his honors at an important society for supposed fabrication of a newly discovered species of bird.
Shaken, but unmoved, Charles vows never to return until he’s captured the beast, alive. He disappears from the story after that.
But as luck would have it, he reappears. Carl and Russell stumble upon the now elderly explorer, who has kept his vow never to return to civilization until he captures the bird and clears his name. What the explorer doesn’t know, is that Russell has already befriended that same bird, and named her Kevin.
One of my favorite lines comes from Russell’s attempts to keep Kevin as a pet. The boy notices Carl talking to Ellie, and gets wise, “Hey Ellie, can I keep the bird? Uh, hum…yes…alright. She said I could keep him.”
Carl looks up at Ellie and replies, “But I told him no…”
But Munz his not the hero Carl remembers from boyhood. The once great explorer has become but an imbittered shadow of his former self.
Carles Munz never moved on with his life. He became so obsessed with clearing his name that he has become vengeful and determined to get what he wants. No matter what the cost.
While I would admit that it is very easy to read too much into a character like Charles. After all, old school explorers/hunters have made perfect Disney villians for a good twenty years.
But Munz has also grown so possessive over what he considers to be his territory, so much that he’s willing to murder any and all “trespassers.” This takes it well beyond simple poaching.
I doubt that Carl would have ever gone off the deep end quite in the way Munz did, but it would be no stretch of the imagination to say that he would have ended up just as alianated and alone.
In the end, however, Carl receives a special encouragement from Ellie thanking him for their life together – her greatest adventure – and permission to go and find his own. He then crosses his heart, a special way that he and Ellie showed each other that they actually meant it.
I can’t get through this part without tears forming in my eyes.
It may sound silly, but it’s one of the most beautiful representations of a truly loving and committed relationship. I just hope the one I share with my husband can be just as strong.
Then, a new chapter is written with Russell, the little boy who so despiratly longs to be loved and admired.
I think the message of moving on speaks to a lot of people these days. I know it has for me.
There are a few chapters in my life today that I’ve had a difficult time closing. I feel that a part of my normal life has passed and like Carl, I found it challenging to let go and move on.
Endings have always been difficult pills for me to swallow, I don’t deal with changes or routine interruptions too well. I understand that this will never be easy, but comprehending this emotionally is another thing entirely.
At the same time, I do know that it’s healthy for me to move on with my life. I have always seen the world through the lense of animation, it is from this medium that I have learned my greatest lessons.
In a way, I can move on to a new chapter of my life, by moving “Up.”