In 2018, for the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party I dressed up as a young(er) Carl Fredericksen (voiced by Ed Asner) from the 2009 Disney classic Up. I had never seen the movie before, and I am not going to rehash my “interesting” relationship with the Mouse. It was an easy enough costume to throw together: fake pair of horn-rimmed glasses, khakis, suspenders, and white-buttoned shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Actually, sans suspenders, that is not too far off from what I wear in most professional settings, which (if you know the film), perhaps says a lot about me personally. But recently my girlfriend suggested we watch the film, and I am here to say: not bad.
I say Up was “not bad” because it did not resort to the hyper-Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), mega-blasted light shows that are so many animated films. I also cannot say that I chuckled too much during its run-time. There was the dog, Dug (voiced by Bob Peterson), that did bump up against my annoying animated character threshold. But overall, it was a sweet film about Carl coming to grips with the loss of his wife, Eillie. That is not really a spoiler either as it happens within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. Being aimed at children, this could be quite traumatic for little ones. But Disney handles it with a commendable sensitivity that steers well clear of anything macabre, while also clearly signaling that Ellie is gone and that Carl is sad.
Being a Disney film, Up takes an innovative approach to wearing its tale of loss and acceptance. The vehicle for Carl’s arc was Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), a young Wilderness Explorer (think Boy Scouts, but with a Fall palette for their uniforms) who turns up at Carl’s door wanting to earn his helping-the-elderly badge. Through their adventures in Carl’s improbably floating house and their flight to South America(?), the old man learns again what it means to care about another human being and how much joy that can bring to somebody’s life.
Forget the improbability of Up with a house that can be floated and steered using just helium balloons, or eleven foot tall birds that are seemingly semi-sentient. Russell’s pluckiness breaks through Carl’s gruff exterior, and by the end of the film the old man is willing to risk his life for the boy. Russell teaches Carl to live again, to let go of the house that he had frozen in time as a memorial to Ellie, and to be selfless once more. There is an excellent lesson there for us Catholics. It reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. When finding a helpless person along the road, the Good Samaritan treats that person’s wounds and sees to his recovery for no other reason than to be helpful. Given Carl’s initial grumpiness, there seemed little chance that he would aid Russell. Yet because the boy stirred something in him, he gave in to altruism and was rewarded with a renewed vitality. That sounds like a Heavenly reward to me.
I will say it again: I enjoyed Up. I have no desire to see it again, but that should not detract from its quality. Still, if you find yourself stuck at home these days and you want something to warm the heart a bit, it gets this reviewer’s recommendation.