The movie is not what I expected it to be. Granted, I don't know what anyone really expects from a movie that was advertised as a film about a guy who hooks up balloons to his house, but the best thing about Pixar films may be the fact that I never know exactly what kind of movie I'm going to get going in. The advertising is a little deceptive.
This is probably never more sharp than for Up, which, for all intents and purposes, isn't really a kids film. Sure, there are some gimmicky moments that are certainly geared for a younger audience, but, on the whole, the film is very adult in nature. Carl begins life as a would-be explorer. His adventures with a blue balloon take him to the somewhat more elaborate "ship" of Ellie - a girl who shares his obsession with explorer Charles Muntz but happens to be more bold in the way she goes about life. The two form a friendship that ends in a marriage and a wonderful life together. In perhaps the most brilliant two minutes of film I have seen in years, the audience views what must be at least forty to fifty years of marriage and the ups and downs they have - setting up house - picnics - wanting to have children but not being able to - planning trips to Paradise Falls that never quite make it because of other expenses, and Ellie's eventual death. In the three times I've seen the film now, I'm still amazed at how quickly the audience goes from laughing hysterically to complete and total silence. Even the youngest kids in the room know that something has shifted thanks to the score (well done, Michael Giacchino.) It's beautiful and heartbreaking - and they never make it to Paradise Falls. Ellie's lifelong dream of setting up house in the middle of no where never quite got fulfilled and Carl is left alone.
It is partly because of this that he gets the idea to balloon his house to Venezuela. The rest of the movie follows as Carl tries desperately to walk his house (literally) over to Paradise Falls along with stow-away Wilderness Explorer Russell who has never been really camping a day in his life but wants to earn his "assisting the elderly" badge. Russell is worthy of a completely different blog post so for now, I'm going to stick to one of my favorite moments in the film - as they're walking through the woods, Russell mentions to Carl that the wilderness is different than he expected, and that he's decided that the boring stuff is what he likes more, because he remembers it. He talks about going to get ice cream with his father and counting cars that go by the shop based on colors.
This relates to a moment in the film when Carl comes across Ellie's "Adventure Book" near the end of the film. At the beginning of the film she shows Carl the "Stuff I'm Going to Do" section - a blank part of the book where she was planning on filling in all her adventures. For almost the entire movie, that little blank section of scrap-book was the source of all of Carl's guilt. But then he actually looks at the pages and sees that Ellie has filled them in with all the "boring" stuff. Eating dinner. Picnics. Reading together. Everything that they did for day to day life. Her adventure - grand as it had begun when she was a kid - had shifted into something more fulfilling.
This idea of adventures being better in the every-day part of life has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I've been thinking about the goals I have for myself and the way that most people see those goals as wasting my education or a chance for a good career. But then I think about my family - I think about the parts of my family that I love the most. I love that my dad goes out of his way, even on Father's Day, to make breakfast for us before church. I love sitting with everyone half piled on the same couch so that we can watch old family videos and eat popcorn together. I even love being piled into the same small van for endless road trips around the country. We don't have the most elaborate family adventures together, but it's never mattered because the trip itself isn't as important as just spending time together.
So to the small child in front of me who proclaimed after Carl and Russell should have taken the bus to avoid the storm that tossed their make-shift hot air balloon house around - you might be right. But where would be the fun in that? And where would be the movie in that? Carl's lesson at the end is a lesson well learned - when we get where we thought we always wanted to be, we end up sitting in our easy chair and saying. . . "now what?" Unless, of course, the journey is seen as an important part of the destination.