Drawn That Way
By Daniel Pellegrino
January 20, 2010
Movies affect us depending on the time we see them. It's been noted that Up in the Air has succeeded not only because of the performances, but also because of the timeliness of the script. If you watch You've Got Mail during a long-distance relationship, or watch The Break-Up after you and a loved one part ways, you understand how a film that would ordinarily be described as "good" suddenly becomes "amazing." In the summer of 2009, I saw Up within a month of my grandmother's passing. The picture resonated with me in a strong way.
Up is the story of Carl Fredricksen, an elderly man who loses his wife just before they fulfill their dream of traveling to South America. In honor of his late wife, Ellie, he ties thousands of balloons to his home and goes on an adventure. A precocious young man named Russell, a talking dog named Dug and an exotic bird named Kevin join Carl as he discovers that one is never too old to find adventure.
Pixar has a history of making us laugh through tears. Many viewers tear up during the first few minutes of Finding Nemo, when a father loses his wife and kids. Toy Story 2 has a particularly moving sequence when Jessie the cowgirl reminisces about a different time in her life as a Sarah McLachlan song plays. Point is, they know how to tug at the heartstrings in an affective, non-manipulative way. There may be no better sequence than the beginning of Up. Everyone can relate as Carl and Ellie grow older, and their dreams farther and farther out of reach. Perhaps we see our own dreams falling through the cracks of time or our loved ones through Carl and Ellie. Time moves more quickly than most of us would like and it is apparent as the two characters build a home together and Ellie's health diminishes.
My own relationship with the film grew strong as I watched my own grandmother's health fade. My grandfather was alone in what seemed like an instant. These days it is rare to see a couple spend a lifetime together. My grandparents did. When Grandma died, it was as if my grandpa lost an arm. Pixar perfectly captures the confusion, regret and denial of a relationship that strong. Fortunately, the film also reminds us that it is never too late to go for our dreams, to have an adventure.
I watched the movie with my dad when it arrived on DVD. I watched tears well up in his eyes as he saw Ellie's death and thought about his own mother's. He enjoyed the movie as a whole, but it seems it would be too soon to show the film to my grandpa. In due time I'm certain he will watch Carl and get inspired to do something daring, because that's what the film does. Inspires. In the meantime, maybe I'll send him a copy of The Hangover to get him laughing. Or maybe a copy of Renee Zellweger's New In Town to remind him that he will never get the last two hours back. I digress.
Carl also develops a wonderful relationship with Russell. These days, the only adult-child relationships you see on screen are of the "cougar" variety. It's nice to see an old man and a young boy create a bond that is both realistic and gratifying. To see the opposite of a healthy adult-child relationship, tune in to ABC's Cougar Town on Wednesday nights as Courteney Cox's character talks to her teenage son like he's Samantha Jones after a trip to a whorehouse. Again, I digress.
I'd like to take a moment to talk about merchandising. If you head into the Disney store, you will notice there aren't a whole lot of Carl dolls. He isn't necessarily the perfect accessory for a little girl's room. Usually, dogs make the perfect plush. However, Dug's awkward shape and size make him much less appealing than Disney's Bolt. Kevin, the female exotic bird is the closest Up comes to a cuddly creature, and Kevin's tall and slender frame make it difficult for kids to use him as a pillow. I just think it's interesting to note that Disney didn't force animators to make the characters more merchandise-friendly, just as they didn't force the creators of Ratatouille to add in a teddy bear that would fly off store shelves. I heard rumor that during the production of Brother Bear, Disney thought they had a merchandise goldmine in the bear characters. Unfortunately, the movie just wasn't very good. Who knows if this is a conscious change in the company's creative output, or just a fluke? I guess they are still enjoying the outrageous sales of their Cars merchandise.
The point is that Pixar is able to bring heart, humanity and humor to unconventional animated subjects that would seem impossible. They've made us care about a mute robot, a rat in the kitchen, a group of plastic toys, and a curmudgeonly old man. The company has recently begun production on John Carter of Mars, a popular story by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This will be their first foray into live-action. If they can populate the film with even half as much heart as their animated features, we will be in for a real treat.
I'd like to finish by saying that I can't believe I just wrote, "in for a real treat." It seems Carl has had quite the impact on me. Perhaps I can incorporate other primarily elderly sayings. I'll start by calling films "talkies." In the meantime, I'll "put a pin in it." (Inner dialogue is urging me to wrap this Up; pun intended). Up. See Up. Now.