Friday, January 1, 2010

Our spirits were lifted by "Up"

Carl and Ellie Fredricksen became childhood friends in the 30’s through their mutual admiration of Charles Muntz, a world traveling adventurer modeled on Charles Lindberg. The little house where they met becomes their home when they marry and spend a lifetime dreaming of moving the little house to the top of Paradise Falls, in South America where Charles Muntz is still searching for his monster. Carl sells balloons in the Zoo where Ellie is a guide in the tropical birds house. When their plans to move to Paradise Falls are never realized, and Ellie dies, Carl is bereft, hardening into a stereotypical cranky old man. Their charming little house is surrounded by skyscrapers, and though Carl intends to stay put, he loses his temper with a construction worker, hitting over the head with his cane, and finds he has been forced by the court into leaving the home he loves. He hatches a plan in the night; he will float his home away with thousands of helium balloons, sail to South America and finally plant the little house on top of Paradise Falls. What he doesn’t realize is that he has a stow-away. Intrepid Russell the Wilderness Explorer has spent the night under his porch and suddenly finds himself on a floating house in the middle of Carl’s escape plan. The crusty Carl is none too pleased at this wrinkle in his plans, he was doing this for Ellie and wants nothing to do with this pesky little boy who is fascinated by his “floating house”.
When UP came out in theatres this summer, I avoided seeing it. Those who know my tastes as a family film reviewer will find this odd, so let me explain. This summer, I heard that UP, as lighthearted as it seemed in previews, had a theme about death. Since my own mother was succumbing to cancer, I was not ready to deal with my own intense feelings in a cinema, so I stayed home. I gave the DVD to my girls this Christmas, yet they insisted I avoid showing this film to my father. You see Carl’s beloved wife in UP was named Ellie. Like Mom.
So, when I finally saw this little film, it was with trepidation. I needn’t have worried. The sweetly sentimental treatment of a lifelong love was utterly charming. The tenderness of the couple living the ups and downs of marriage set to the lilting strains of a waltz was so delightful, I have the melody stuck in my head. And I love it there. UP reminded me of two things on this New Year’s Eve as the family watched it together; cherish even the boring everyday moments you share together; they may become your fondest memories when loved ones pass away. And when they do, and life seems stalled in the past, it is merely taking a new turn. If you keep your heart open, you will find someone to care for, someone who will bring a sparkle to your eye and a spring to your step. And that’s just what Ellie would want.
Pixar has done it again. Taken a theme of high flying adventure, bolstered it with unforgettable characters, exciting action and wonderfully clever humor and wowed family audiences. How do they find such great stories with such loveable characters as Carl the Curmudgeon and Russell the rotund Wilderness Explorer? How did they know my dog’s personality quirks and insert them into Dug?  This is the type of film a family should own to develop their own inside jokes (remember the time we saw Grandpa’s teeth besides his bed in a cup?) Crusty old age is as gently teased as is the youthful know-it-all, but in UP, its all in good fun. Only the bad guys lose altitude.
UP manages to deal skillfully with several themes not considered standard fare for children’s movies; disillusionment with childhood heroes, death, depression, and absent fathers. My hat is off to Pixar who always makes me look forward to the next film. Issues of death, and marriage are fleetingly but properly set inside a church, and Carl looks heavenward when talking to his late wife, implying a belief in the afterlife. Childlessness is seen as a source of suffering, and adults are respected by children. Amazing. No language or nudity, fleeting potty reference, some frightening scenes may bother younger viewers. Ages 8 and up.  Highly recommended.

This film is now available on DVD. Rated PG. 
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