As a boy, Carl Fredricksen had a dream. He was going to be an explorer like his childhood hero, Charles Muntz, who flew to South America on a blimp called “Spirit of Adventure” in search of a rare bird species. Carl met Ellie, a kindred spirit, who had her own vision of living on Paradise Falls, a supposedly uncharted territory in South America. The two ended up getting married when they grew up, spending every aspect of their life always as partners.
Every now and then, the two would make a plan and start a fund toward their South American exploration dream. As it turned out, emergency situations would squeeze their way in into the couple’s life, and whatever little money they had saved from Carl’s job as a balloon salesman would always end up being spent on the mundanities of everyday adult life. Over and over, Carl and Ellie would start from scratch, and soon enough, the years flew past like a balloon quickly losing air.
Eventually, Ellie died, leaving behind her scrapbook which seemed to Carl a constant reminder of unfulfilled dreams and unmet adventures. Despite that, Carl was unwilling to part with it and the house–all remnants of a life shared with Ellie. Carl had wittingly resigned himself to getting old until an untoward incident led him–already 78 years old–to tie a hundred thousand helium-filled balloons to his house, which sent it soaring into the sky.
Navigating through the air with the unsolicited assistance of Russell, a Junior Wilderness Explorer missing an “Elderly Assistance” badge, Carl was determined to see his dream and Ellie’s come to pass. The geriatric gentleman convinced of his self-sufficiency and an overeager 8-year-old scout adamant to help were an unlikely pair. They literally took South America by storm, finding themselves right across the cliff from Paradise Falls.
Finding their way through the unfamiliar terrain to get to the other side, the two came across the adventure of their lifetime. They meet the land’s residents, a legendary chocoholic bird which Russell named Kevin, a talking dog which answers to the name “Dug the Dog,” a pack of talking dogs that seemed to be on steroids, and Carl’s childhood hero, explorer Charles Muntz.
As the story evolves, Carl realizes that the things we believed in and people we looked up to are not always what they seem. Despite being able to live his dream, he found out that even if Ellie didn’t get to see the majestic Paradise Falls–or even if he hadn’t gone there–their life would not have been devoid of meaning still. So much like the young Carl, Russell drives home the point clearer when he spoke the line, “Sometimes, it’s the boring stuff I remember the most,” alluding to the activity he got to share with his dad–counting cars while eating ice cream. Carl learned that the greatest adventure of all is understanding what makes his life worth living–companionship, sacrifices, and knowing when to let go. Still, it didn’t hurt that he got to pull stunts reminiscent of Mission Impossible with the help of Dug the Dog (himself suffering from very low self-esteem) to rescue Russell and Kevin from the selfish motives of Charles Muntz, Carl’s hero-turned-villain. Unfortunately, Charles became fueled by the desire to prove the world wrong for calling him a fraud and spent his entire lifetime attempting a live capture of the elusive bird.
There’s a bit of Carl, Ellie, Russell, Charles, and even Dug the Dog in all of us. We all have dreams and our share of frustrations. Like Ellie, some of us may follow a dream but discover that the journey itself is the dream. Some of us are like Carl who make good on our promises just because it doesn’t feel right to let go just yet. Most of the time, we are “Carl and Ellie” as we motivate ourselves toward our vision and even get around to Step 1, before the so-called priorities of life put our dreams on hold for yet another day, month, or year. Still, inside us is a Russell, who, with youthful enthusiasm and naivete, goes in pursuit of the things that matter without even planning to. Sadly, a part of us is like Charles Muntz, who doesn’t let go, because we feel that the world owes us an apology. We invent contraptions to make our dogs talk, because we also get lonely and needy but want only those that we can train and give orders to. At times, we become like Dug the Dog . . . in need of someone to lord over us and make us feel useful, but mostly, to let us know that we belong.
Like Carl’s attachment to the house and everything in it, some things that we hold on to weigh us down, because we think these are what gives us meaning. The sooner we understand this, the easier we can unload, and the more we see that life itself is the spirit of adventure.
Screenplay by Pete Docter, story by Thomas McCarthy, written and directed by Bob Peterson, who also did the voices of Alpha and Dug the Dog, and featuring the voices of Edward Asner, Jonathan Plummer, and Jordan Nagai, “Up” delivers what the Disney-Pixar powerhouse promises. A flying house, an elusive bird, talking dogs, and the friendship of a young scout and an old man–all the stuff legends are made of. “Up” is a children’s film for adults.