When you think of a Disney film, you automatically think of princesses; princes; the evil queen; fairytales – okay, and maybe Lion King – but my point is, this is not the kind of film that you’d expect from Disney. Pixar, on the other hand – they are notorious for films such as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo – films that have a lot of heart in and have characters who are often regarded as outsiders, the underdogs – they don’t conform to society. Maybe that is why Up is considered a favourite amongst many. It not only appeals to children – their main demographic but also adults, family, teenagers: This is a film for everyone. No wonder that it was able to break the barrier of old, white rich men and get nominated for 5 Academy Awards (winning two: Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score) including the big all-important Best Picture in 2010.
Up is a beautiful story about widower Carl Fredrickson: retired balloon salesman, full-time grumpy recluse, all time adventurer dreamer, who is determined to keep his house decides to tie thousands and thousands of balloons with helium to fly to his and his wife’s dream: Paradise Falls. Unbeknownst to Carl, he has a stray on his journey – Russell. Russell is a young, well-intentioned Wilderness Explorer who only wants to secure his final badge. Of course, this is a feature length film which means that it can never go plain sailing! Havoc ensues, once they land near paradise falls. They encounter some allies along the way, Kevin (a flightless bird) and Dug the dog, he has a collar that enables him to speak. When attacked by a horde of dogs, they encounter Charles Muntz, who is after Kevin to restore his legacy as an adventurer.
Carl is not your typical protagonist; an old guy who walks around with his walking stick – it doesn’t scream hero. So how do you make a bunch of kids care about this grumpy old man? By delivering his character’s entire backstory in the first 10 minutes through a montage. This montage has become a fan favourite when people say that Up is sad, they think of this montage. The opening details the story of a 9-year-old Carl who is a fan of the explorer Charles Muntz. He is befriended by the boisterous Ellie who also is a fan of Muntz. They bond through their shared interests and eventually get married. It tells the tale of their life together: they discover that they can’t have a child, pushing them towards trying to achieve their childhood dreams. Unfortunately, they struggle with money to achieve their dreams and by the time Carl arranges the trip, Ellie passes away. Yes, pretty dark for a kid’s film. A lot of kids can handle almost dying, but death? Usually, it is implied off screen but the story starts in the film, however, director Pete Docter’s decision to show the backstory of Carl at the beginning is a brilliant way to start the film and makes everyone cares about him.
While the grumpy old guy charm can be endearing to some, for a film primarily aimed at families and kids, the kids would get bored and not be happy at following this guy’s journey – they would prefer Russell, who is very endearing, but he is that functioning comic relief – the Dory of Up. They are opposites yet there is something similar to these characters that creates the bond between them. These characters are two sides of the same coin. Russell represents every child: very imaginative and always up for an adventure. While Carl, he still has that adventurous streak in him, however, he is older and is more realistic about it.
The film plays on the notion that everyone has at some point; if you have a bunch of balloons with helium inside, that you can fly anywhere. While the science may not be accurate – this theory has been tested and you would need a lot of balloons: A LOT! – we don’t care because it taps into our inner child; our thirst to escape from life. But if you are a stickler for science and physics, don’t worry. They don’t completely disregard the science, they mention how the helium will leave the balloons – causing potential problem #1 – and cutting balloons off, so you know, it’s sort of educational (in a fun, not really but kinda way).
So what makes Up stand out from all the other Disney-Pixar films that are just as good? As I said this film has a lot of heart. You could argue that previous films have a heart as well, but what makes Up stand out is that it is more relatable. The leads are human. They are not robots, monsters or toys. Films like WALL-E, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story use a more literal way or delivering the messages and themes to children. With Up, it is quite subtle. It tells us that you’re never too old to do anything. It does not conform Carl to that adult who conflicts with the child. It isn’t the case of Reality vs Fantasy. There are also some adult issues like mental illness in Up as Carl appears to have depression. This is a topic that is often avoided in children films.
This film is a modern classic. The people at Disney-Pixar got it right. It has kickstarted the trend of not just appealing to children but to adults as well. The balance is right. It is a film that you would happily watch with your family and not be upset that is no violence or whatever PG/12 film you hoped to watch. While it is a sad tale, both the leads have sad backstories, it is very uplifting as well (Pardon the pun) and I think films like Inside Out wouldn’t have been released today if it wasn’t for Up.
Director: Pete Docter
Scriptwriter: Bob Peterson and Pete Docter
Starring: Ed Anser; Christopher Plummer; Jordan Nagai; Bob Peterson
Running Time: 96 minutes (1 hour 36 minutes)