I saw this movie in the theater when it came out, and I found it a very powerful experience; let’s say my allergies acted up through the whole thing. On my rating scale, I give it the highest marks: “see it twice at full price”. I just watched it again this evening, via Netflix On-Demand, and I wasn’t quite as much of a wreck this time, so I could pay more attention to deeper aspects.
While “Up” is perfectly appropriate for children, I think emotionally mature adults will have a hard time watching it without benefit of kleenex. Hell, this is the most shamelessly manipulative film from Pixar yet. It’s a roller coaster: love and loss; innocence, and realizing the world is not what you expected; determination, and despair, and finding strength to go on anyway; and understanding at last what your promises really mean, and the sacrifices it will take to keep them.
There is one major theme that really stood out for me on this second viewing: that of personal growth, and of self-discovery, and of letting-go. (There’s a lot of M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled” here.)
It is Carl’s childhood promise to Ellie to visit Paradise Valley that motivates him to leave his old world after her death, and go against his old safe nature to begin an adventure (“it’s out there!”) when thought he had nothing left to lose. But he *did* have something to lose, and he carries it around with him through the whole film. Carl’s house is symbolic of everything about his old life: all his possessions, all his memories, everything that remains of Ellie, and everything else that he loved. He wants to keep these things and transplant them to new surroundings, to keep everything inside without changes while still keeping his promise to go to the valley. He wants to go to a new place, but stay the same person; he doesn’t know yet that by the time you get to your destination, the journey will have changed you.
When he and Russell first touch down in the valley, he has his first brush with what will be required of him; as they teeter over a cliff, Carl literally screams into the abyss as he sees danger to him self (and to his sense of self). He carries all of his old life with him: it hangs over him, he lives in its shadow, he struggles to keep it; he won’t let it go, but in some ways it carries him too. It’s only when he has other people to take care of, when he sees where they are in their lives, when he makes promises to them like he made to Ellie to protect them and keep them safe, and when he fights to keep those promises in the face of despair and impossible circumstances, that he finds strength and talent and power he had never tapped before. His old life helps him through the new challenges, but when the time comes, he is finally ready to let it go — and *then* he gains new life, while at the same time honoring all the best of his old life.
And that’s just one aspect of the movie. It’s a great, great film … I just can’t watch it very often, you know, because of the allergies.