If the opening sequence for Up doesn’t tug at your heart, there must be something wrong with you. The few minutes of wordless montage showing the near-lifelong relationship of Carl and Ellie is more effective at telling a love story than many full length romance movies. As kids, they were filled with the spirit of adventure and had a dream to travel down to South America to see the land where their hero, explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), has spent years searching for an exotic bird. Then they grew up together, fell in love, were married, tried and failed to have children, repeatedly attempting to save money to go to South America and then having to break into their savings to pay for accidents that happened throughout their lives together. Finally Carl is reminded of their dream after they have become more elderly and decides to buy plane tickets there, but they are unable to use them as Ellie falls ill and passes away.
In the aftermath of Ellie’s death, Carl (voiced by Edward Asner) becomes a cranky, reclusive old man who refuses to leave his home for a retirement community. It’s understandable – it’s hard to leave your old life behind, even at an old age. He and Ellie had lived their whole lives in that house and leaving the house behind would be leaving his last big connection to her behind as well. So when an incident forces him away, he decides to release a huge bunch of balloons above the house to carry it away, with him inside, to South America. What he didn’t count on was a young boy scout named Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) tagging along. Russell had rung his doorbell earlier to try and “assist the elderly” and earn another badge. Carl had shooed him away, but Russell’s persistence meant that he was under the old man’s porch when he flew away. And so the pair continue south through a thunderstorm, eventually finding their way to South America.
There, they find the large exotic bird Carl had grown up hearing about, named Kevin by Russell, as well as a talking dog named Dug (voiced by Bob Peterson). Dug takes a liking to the group, initially because he was trained to find the bird and bring him back to Muntz, but then because he finds an affection for Carl and Russell, calling Carl his “master.” It’s cuter than you’d think. Dug is my favorite character in the movie – he displays the qualities of a dog perfectly. They’re loyal and playful, if easily distracted – particularly by squirrels. Then there’s the fact that he resembles my dog.
The movie ends well, as pretty much every Disney movie does. And it is really a great story of learning to live again at an old age. Many people may feel like their life is over once they reach the later stages of their life, but there are still opportunities to get out and see the world, even if it is with the help of a young, enthusiastic boy. It begins as a story of love and adventure lost, but ends as a story about moving on from grief and learning to live again, at any age. As another favorite Disney movie, I think it is much deserving of a spot on the top 250 films.