What makes an adventure? That’s the question that’s explored in Pixar’s animated feature Up. Through the film’s high action and its tender moments, we realize that the answer doesn’t always come where you most expect it.
Make no mistake about it. Up is a movie that majors on action and adventure and is aimed at young audiences and their families. But the thing that sets Up apart from its earlier predecessors are the tender moments that come out of the marriage relationship between the main character and his wife.
Pixar’s tenth project follows the life of Carl Fredricksen, who as a boy is enthralled by the adventures of others but lacks the daring to have any real adventure of his own. Until he meets Ellie, a little girl whose life exudes adventure in everything she does. We watch as Carl marries Ellie to begin an adventure of their own together, only to see the dream interrupted by the unexpected realities of life, and eventually by Ellie’s premature death. When Ellie dies, Carl’s adventure dies with her.
Since her passing, Carl often pulls out Ellie's My Adventure Book, which she first showed him in great confidentiality when they first met as children. Just a few pages into the album is a page scribbled in her childish handwriting, “Stuff I’m Going to Do,” followed by countless pages to be filled in by the adventure she anticipates her life to be. As Carl looks back on the album after her death, though, the empty pages are only a reminder of dreams she never realized, and the fact that he is partly responsible because he never followed through on his “cross-your-heart” promise to move them to Paradise Falls in South America. Throughout the movie, whenever he gets to the “Stuff I’m Going to Do” title page, he closes the book with an anguished sigh, unable to bring himself to stare at the blank pages.
After Ellie is gone, life just seems to be closing in on Carl. As he feels increasingly more trapped, it's Ellie's memory that spurs him to fulfill a promise he made to her and head to Paradise Falls, where the couple had planned to run away to and build a home. The lifelong balloon salesman attempts the feat by doing what he knows best: floating away with his house, buoyed by thousands of helium filled balloons.
Rather than enjoying that adventure with Ellie, though, Carl’s dream is hijacked by a persistent little scout, Russell, who wants only to complete his last merit badge to become a Senior Wilderness Explorer. All he needs is to help an elderly person. And all Carl wants is to be left alone so he can complete the lifelong dream that he never fulfilled for his wife.
Eventually he makes it to Paradise Falls, only to realize how empty the dream is without the dreamer, Ellie. But it's in the emptiness of the dream at Paradise Falls that Carl makes a discovery that changes everything.
I won’t spoil one of the most touching moments in the movie. Suffice it to say that Carl learns that true adventure only comes when you have someone to share it with, but that his hope for adventure didn't die with his wife. Together, Carl and Russell find out that their dreams are not all that different, and the individual missions that they think they are on are only bunny trails off the real path to happiness.
As you may have gathered, the animated film may offer more for adults than young children. The message of marriage, commitment, keeping promises, and finding fulfillment are artfully portrayed through the storytelling of directors Pete Docter and Bob Petersen. This is a movie that celebrates the marriage relationship, as well as the importance of an older man in the life of a boy, and the fulfillment an adult finds by investing in the life of a child.
One of the hidden gems of Up is how it celebrates one of the great beauties of the marriage relationship: that opposites attract, and for good reason. In a loving marriage, it is our spouse who brings out in us what was lacking in our own personality . Each of us becomes more whole because of how our spouse completes us by sharing themself through a lifetime of love and commitment. We see how much Ellie enriches Carl's life, and in the end, see in Carl something that would have brought great joy to Ellie that she never had the opportunity to experience.
Those of us who are big fans of the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life will find numerous visual parallels to the life of George and Mary early in the film, which both endear us to the Carl and Ellie and allow us to empathize with the heartbreak of Carl’s unfulfilled dreams. There's also a thematic reference to another sentimental favorite, Miracle on 34th Street, that's hard to miss.
Adult or child, this is a film bound to satisfy. Other than moments of peril, there are really no objectionable elements at all in this move: no language, no real potty humor, no digs at religion, no hidden agendas. The visual elements are nothing short of what you’ve come to expect from Pixar, and the humorous moments just keep coming, as does the adventure.
Whatever your type of film, Up is a must see, and one you can enjoy as an entire family. I'd even recommend it as a date movie for husband and wife. I went to see it with my wife.
By the way, her name is Ellie.
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