Sometimes, a movie for kids can offer up messages more profound than any adult-centric cinematic masterpiece. Underneath it’s flying house and talking dogs, Pixar’s “Up” is a story about an elderly man who finally finds the will to move on with his life after the death of his beloved wife. Beneath the surface of this fun adventure is a tale of the unbearable pain of losing a loved one and learning how to love life again.
“Up” takes its audience on an emotional rollercoaster. It is equal parts comedy, action-adventure and heart-warming story about life.
We meet Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner) as a young child on the day he meets his future wife, Ellie. They both idolize adventurer and explorer Charles F. Muntz and bond over their desire to go to Paradise Falls, a South American paradise and explore with Muntz.
After his wife’s death, Carl eventually decides to set off in search of the land of their childhood dreams. He turns his home into a ship (with the help of thousands of balloons) and sets sail. When he inadvertently takes 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell along, he is forced out of his self-imposed exile and into the types of adventures he and Ellie dreamed about as children.
Although Carl’s decision to float away is related to his grief, Pete Docter, the film’s writer and director, explained his motive behind creating Carl’s escapist tendency.
“The genesis of it was that I’m not an extroverted guy. By the end of the day, a lot of times I just want to escape or get away from everything. So the idea of floating off into the sky seemed really intriguing. I think everybody can relate to that, and yet one of the most important things we can do is to connect with other people—and it’s easy to lose track of that.”
“Up” does not shy away from tough issues despite being a film aimed at children. In addition to death and grief, the film touches on the issues of broken homes and absentee parents, over-development and urban sprawl, and even miscarriage.
Docter explained the more serious original idea for the story to the Los Angeles Times.
“In the very first draft . . . he just wanted to join his wife up in the sky,” Docter said. “It was almost a kind of strange suicide mission or something. And obviously that’s [a problem]. Once he gets airborne, then what? So we had to have some goal for him to achieve that he had not yet gotten.”
As is expected from a Pixar movie, the filmmakers created a rich story with beautiful visuals and plenty of humor (especially from Dug, the talking dog), but the most enjoyable part of the film is its simple message.
“He’s always thought of adventure as travel and exotic places and animals no one has ever seen,” Docter told the Los Angeles Times. “And in the end he comes around to realize that the real adventures in life are the small things that we do with our family and friends.”