2009 in Review: ‘Up’ – A Masterpiece in Style and Heart

When one thinks of the saddest Disney movies, one of the common titles to come up is, well, Up. Not only is the opening sequence detailing the life of Carl and Ellie heartbreaking, the theme of childhood heroes not living up to one’s expectations is sad as is the struggle of growing up trying to prove your worth to a father that is never there for you. The whole film, on paper, reads like a Sarah McLaughlin song, simply there to make adults weep. Yet somehow the film is bubble-wrapped in sweetness and presented as innocent as a balloon. And in that we find the brilliance of Pete Docter’s masterpiece.

Now a decade old, Up holds the distinction of being only one of three animated features to have been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story 3 being the other two). That is not an accident. The film brings together the best components of what Pixar had produced previously and married it together in a cohesive way; it has the imagination of Monsters, Inc, the childlike innocence of Toy Story, the silent storytelling of Wall*e, the visuals of The Incredibles, and adds in a heart all of its own.

For those who may not recall, the film centers around Carl Fredrickson (voiced brilliantly by Ed Asner), an elderly gentleman who, mourning his late wife and eager for the adventure he had always promised her, inflates thousands of balloons tied to his house and flies to Paradise Falls. He is accompanied by an eager Wilderness Explorer in the form of Russell and a loyal dog named Dug in the journey that leads to an encounter with a childhood hero and a mysterious bird, all of whom help Carl find a joy and excitement in life that was lacking since Ellie’s passing.

When I Fell In Love with Up

Set to Michael Giacchino’s Oscar winning score (criminally, his only Oscar win so far), an early scene tells the story of Carl and Ellie’s life from childhood crush to her somber funeral. Not a single line of dialogue is spoken through the entire segment but the short clips of their joys, sorrows, misfortunes, adventures, and undying devotion for each other is enough to elicit laughter and full-on sobbing from even the most cynical moviegoers.

It is a beautiful example of storytelling and is able to convey more emotion than most other animated features are able to fit into an entire feature length presentation. From the end of the scene, the movie had my heart and my imagination and it had already earned the right to do whatever it wanted with it.

Most Rewatchable Scene

See above. But in truth the scene that stands out to me is when Carl, about to be forced out of his home and into a retirement community, unleashes his daring balloon escape. The idea of the negative aspects of urbanization had already been hinted at and to see Carl and Ellie’s colorful little house surrounded by cookie-cutter skyscrapers of steel and gray reinforce the melancholy of Carl’s life.

His escape illustrates that change and the animation here is astounding. Equal parts whimsical and colorful and breathtaking, the animators allow the light to filter through the balloons to paint a tapestry of beauty on the surrounding city scape.

His ingenuity in household steering captures my imagination the same way that seeing Flik use a blade of grass and a dewdrop did in A Bug’s Life. Additionally, as he soars over the city, with the rapidly changing backgrounds this is the prime time for some easter egg hunting; the Pizza Planet truck and Lotso the bear both make appearances here.

Cultural Impact

Many couples have their go-to Disney couple – Belle and Beast, Ariel and Eric, Donald and Daisy – but none inspire the kind of life-long partnership than Carl and Ellie. They have dreams together but maintain separate passions. They face adversity together as a team. They are mature and playful, spontaneous and patient. Theirs is the kind of love anyone would dream of having in their own relationships. So it makes sense that couples would recreate their house or mailbox design. That weddings would be themed after a kids’ movie. That the image of a house floating in the sky by balloons would become synonymous with the need to break free from the rigors of life and tackle an adventure. That grape soda bottle caps would become relevant. But perhaps the biggest cultural takeaway from Up is thanks to Dug.

How many of us have ever been deep in a conversation when the other person becomes distracted and someone barks, “Squirrel!” to illustrate their wandering attention span?

Why You Should Watch It Again

The world is a beautiful place. One thing that did not resonate with me when I watched this at 19 was that I had not yet started a life; no career, no wife, no (fur)baby. I had been privileged to travel extensively and expected to continue to do so. In a sense, the cold-iron grip of responsibility had not fastened its piercing talons into my psyche. Of course I would travel again, what would stop me? Now, as an adult, with a much stronger understanding that money does not grow on trees and new AC units for your recently purchased home are equivalent to about three 7-day cruises, I relate to Carl and Ellie’s struggle of wanderlust.

The film is an important reminder to take any opportunity you can to see the world with your loved ones before it is too late. Plus it is cute and funny and pretty to look at.

What do you think of Up? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Check out our 2009 In Review Series, running for the next three weeks at We Bought a Blog. Check back for a new film every day!

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