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June 7, 2009

‘Up’reminds us to let go

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


Up,” the new Disney/Pixar gem, takes the unusual tack of making a senior citizen the main character and hero. The kid in “Up” is the grumpy old man’s sidekick, but becomes every bit as much a hero by the end.

In the story, Carl (Ed Asner) and his beloved wife, Ellie, always planned to go adventuring, but never did. Ellie dies and the house they shared becomes the presence of Ellie for Carl, so when adventure calls, of course, the house must go with. A young adventurer, Russell (Jordan Nagai), inadvertently comes along for the ride, and Carl resents him until he discovers that Russell doesn’t have the family love that Carl once had.

Two more companions join the unlikely duo: a gigantic, rainbow-colored, ostrich- like bird that is supposedly non-existent; and a friendly mutt with a collar that reads his simple, happy-go-lucky dog thoughts and interprets them out loud: “I have just met you, but I love you!” “Squirrel!” Everyone’s mettle is tested by the hardships of the jungle and a dastardly plot to capture the bird (named “Kevin” by Russell). The animals are truly hilarious.

Everything is just right in “Up.” The animation is uber-realistic, while at the same time being very much caricatureesque. Due to the careful craftsmanship and artistry of the Pixar gang the voiceacting is perfect, never sounding a false, disconnected-from-the-visual note as often seems to happen in other animated flicks.

Much has been made about the image of Carl dragging his house behind him, or rather, above him, held aloft by balloons, and tethered to earth by Carl’s living in the past. It is not a burden for Carl, but a labor of love. It makes us instantly reflect: What am I carrying around that is ridiculously too old and large? The fact that Carl was able to remove the house at will by tying it to a tree for a rest, reminds us how easily we can let go what needs to be let go, if only we will.

Carl was a devoted husband, but seems to think that that’s all life asks of him. His answer to everything else is: “That’s none of my concern.” As the saying goes: “Old dreams kill new ones.” And sometimes we just can’t have both.

But Carl uses his ingenuity to incorporate the old into the new. He transforms his comfortable nest into a vessel of rescue for the living. And he knows Ellie would have approved.