Even the title of Pixar’s Up is a risk. Just one, single syllable word and one predominantly used as an adverb at that? Preposterous! Like 2008’s Wall-e, which was dialogue free for a good 45 minutes into its runtime, Up dares to start its adventure story on a complete downer. The movie opens by introducing us to a boy and girl who could well be the plucky main characters of any generic coming of age saga in which animal friends are met, bad guys get their comeuppance and pirate gold is found. But none of that happens. Instead the boy and the girl, grow up, get married, and face difficulties that propel them farther and farther out of the orbit of their childhood dreams.
From the get go nothing about Up is typical. Even as the story moves away from Carl’s sad pilgrimage to the top of Paradise Falls and turns into a rollicking jungle adventure yarn it does so with talking dogs, seven foot tall Dodo birds and a dirigible. It’s ballsy. Also let’s not forget that the protagonist is a senior citizen. Disney marketing must have gone white when they learned of this. I can hear them now, “Children don’t want to watch old people! Marketing seminars with Nick Cannon tell me so! Where’s the extreme?” Enter his sidekick: The Weird Asian Boy Scout. Do you hear that? It’s the marketing people again. “What do you mean he’s Asian? Does he turn into a dragon? No? Does he at least know kungfu?” Pixar is godly when it comes to creating unique comic pairings. They build Up around these two characters; a childless crumudgeon and a hapless boy looking for a father figure. They may not understand each other, and at times might not even speak the same language, but it’s obvious that they need each other.
For me the message of Up is that life is the adventure. Ironically, Carl has to go on this epic journey to a faraway land of mystery in order to understand that the life he and his loving wife, Ellie, led while anticipating the life they might someday lead was the real adventure. Up is a slow realization that even with his wife gone, the adventure continues and it made me want to look back at my own wife and smile bigger.