I’ve always believed if Up consisted of only the first 10 minutes, it would’ve been Pixar’s best film, bar none. I would argue that it’s 99% the reason this 2009 flick is beloved by fans. The rest of the movie is ‘meh’ at best: a jaded old man partners up with a boy brimming with youthful optimism, and through the spirit of adventure, finds a newfound purpose in life.
Finding one’s purpose is a recurring theme in the Pixar-verse, and certainly, one that’s been done better by other titles. Toy Story, by the end of its fourth installment, asked it’s now-adult audience if they’re open to new chapters after being defined by one role for so long. Ratatouille said that no dream is too big for the little guy. And WALL-E is about a robot with a literal trashy existence, who’s elevated to become the savior of humanity.
But while other films had a better handle on the grand existential questions, Up’s beauty is sourced from something far simpler and relatable. Carl meets his childhood sweetheart Ellie, whom he eventually marries. They have huge aspirations, such as traveling the world and having kids, but these plans fall into the wayside due to random life events, including the revelation that the couple is barren.
Despite their disappointment, the pair are each other’s happiness and they’re content to fall into a mundane, yet intimate routine over the years. And just when an elderly Carl decides to revive the grand plans they made in their youth, Ellie passes away. Carl then turns into a bitter recluse, dogged by his perceived failure to fulfill his wife’s dreams of adventure.
All of these details are packed into a 10-minute sequence with barely any dialogue. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, from the musical score to the subtle gestures, such as Ellie tightening Carl’s tie for the last time in her hospital bed.
The montage was a tearjerker when it came out more than a decade ago, and I’d wager it’s even more today. Because now, in our 20s and 30s, we know how it’s like to be let down, to have regrets, and feel as if the opportunity had already slipped by. 2020 made sure of that, as every plan we had went kaput.
But while wallowing in our sorrows like Carl is understandable, Up serves us a final twist. Near the end, Carl opens ‘My Adventure Book’, a scrapbook which contains his and Ellie’s hopes and dreams. His heart breaks at ‘Stuff I’m Going To Do’, as he’s reminded of his supposed failure at fulfill the latter.
However, it’s revealed that for Ellie, their seemingly mundane interactions, such as birthday parties, having coffee, heck, just sitting together at the table, where adventures enough. A little scribble sees Ellie thanking Carl for the journey of a lifetime, and encourages him to ‘go have a new one’.
Once the tears are wiped away, you’ll realize that Up’s message is for every adult dealing with an existential crisis: Thing’s don’t always go as planned – and that’s okay.
The path we wanted might not be as straightforward as we thought. Heck, it might not even be in the same avenue. But that doesn’t mean it’ll automatically suck, or that we can’t create new ‘adventures’ that could be just as fulfilling.
Just think about it: how much time have we spent talking with our fam and friends compared to when life was a blur? Or advocating and helping various causes since we realized just how privileged we are? Turns out, there’s more to living than just clocking in from 9-6.
Canceled plans will always be disappointing. That Japan trip looked pretty sweet. That project looked promising. But hey, it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on, and with it, new possibilities to be had.