Up and Awayby Roger Young / 10.09.2009
The first twenty minutes of Up features probably the greatest critique/discussion of not following your dreams ever seen in a children’s film. Since following one’s dreams is what the genre is almost always about, it’s not only a pretty spellbinding moment but monumentally affecting. This opening sequence charts the shared dreams of exploration of two childhood friends, Carl and Ellie, follows them as they bloom into teenagers, fall in love and get married, takes us through their married life as they age, always holding onto the dream of a hot air balloon ride to South America to find the missing explorer they worshiped as children, shows them never being able to afford it, until the moment that Carl in old age finally buys the ticket, too late as Ellie dies. It’s pretty fucking brutal and even knowing that this was going to happen didn’t prepare me for the sadness I felt. Pixar has finally topped the Bambi moment. We need to see and feel what Carl feels at this moment for the film to make any emotional sense and even though the physics of floating a house to South America never will, all the moral decisions that follow feel natural, if not always right.
From this moment onwards Up is only a slight subversion of where the genre is right now, as Carl escapes from the clutches of an old age home, after injuring a construction worker who messes with his mail box accidentally, by floating away in his house with an accidental boy scout stowaway. High adventure follows, with endangered giant birds, talking dogs, evil explorers, champagne and murder, never once stopping to pander, patronize or ask you to keep up. Many details in Up provoke pondering: the way Carl and Ellie’s heads are round as children but only Carl’s grows square as he gets older, the methods Charles Muntz must have employed to sustain himself on that barren plateau for so long, how a pack of talking dogs stranded for life away from civilization know what a mailman is, but all of these feel slyly deliberate.
While Up never quite reaches the high water mark set by its opening sequence again, the ghost of Ellie haunts and informs the movie and gives it an emotional depth not often found in “children’s” cinema (outside of the Pixar oeuvre). By the film’s conclusion we can only wonder if living his dreams might have been what Carl was doing all along with Ellie anyway.