Life in All It's Complexities: A Review of Pixar's UP

I have been a steadfast fan of all things Pixar from Toy Story to The Incredibles all the way up through Wall-E, reveling in the witty humor, clever film making, and enthusiastic affirmations of life, love, and family, that each embodies.

Needless to say, I went in to UP with high expectations... but I certainly wasn't expecting to start sobbing two minutes after the film started rolling! Who thinks to cry in a kids' movie? And during a 5-minute nearly-silent intro at that? Certainly not me, I'm not that much of a softy... but if Wall-E proved anything, it proved that Pixar can skillfully convey emotion even when words are at a premium. If you've seen the preview of UP, you already know that the hero is a senior citizen of the very crabbiest variety, who ends up whisked off in lively, unlikely, airborne adventure to mysterious lands. But the film itself starts with that hero shown as a child of eight or nine, and rapidly takes us through the course of his life with hardly any words after the initial opening sequence. We meet the rapscallion childhood sweetheart who later becomes his beautiful wife, we see their hopes and dreams and daily struggles... We see them age, and we see him crippled with grief when he loses her. Then the movie I had been expecting from the preview finally began.

And by then I was crying copiously, bawling even. SHEESH! was my thought as the opening credits rolled.

Over the course of the following hour and a half, the film did indeed end up fulfilling my initial expectations of humor ("SQUIRREL!"), gorgeous, clever film making, and lively affirmations of life and hope, but it also reached a level of pathos I hadn't anticipated and left me more than a little emotionally drained. Similar to "real life," there were times in the movie when the poignant drastically outweighed the sweet, and where loneliness was the predominate emotion... yet even so there were adventures to be had, connections to be made, and people (or critters) to be helped. The film ended on that redemptive note, and I think it was meant to be a very happy close. But for me, and perhaps for other people of faith as well, even that didn't feel like enough. Viewers who believe in a greater purpose and a life after death may find that they leave the film feeling a little hollow, because there doesn't seem to be indications of either here. It is certainly true that life is fleeting, but the rapid opening montage and a sense of impending death throughout the film gives UP a heavy edge that prevents it from flying as high as it seems to have been intended.

For children, who are unlikely to pick up on any of these largely implied emotional and metaphysical issues, the film will be a happy-go-lucky romp in a magical land with a gruff but reassuring grandfather-presence to see them safely along the way. And for adults who are able to absorb the message "life is transitory" and translate it into "life is valuable," the film will be a Carpe Diem!! reminder to embrace life in all it's complexity. It is truly impressive that UP is able to reach both audiences so adeptly, but I would still add the caveat that it is better to be aware of the somewhat thorny underlying subtexts before viewing. As someone who can struggle with anxiety and depression, some of the themes were hard for me to digest with equanimity. Nevertheless, UP is a beautiful, moving film, and a balloon-ride well worth taking... one that will stay in your mind long after you leave the theater.


  1. yeah... isn't that amazing, how a movie can have a great message and as a person of faith you're left thinking... almost... but not quite....

    that's how I felt about 7 Pounds yesterday.

  2. yowzas- you hit it on the head. and i didn't even know i felt that way about the movie, but you articulated the "hollowness" so perfectly. it was, indeed, a beautiful film. but i'm with you on the inability to keep my cool while watching a life unfold within in 15 minutes. even fiona (who is 5), was bawling with me. she kept asking, through her tears, "is she coming back or is she dead!?" ugh. heavy.

    anyhow, the bigger announcement i want to make is that i think you are a brilliant writer. for reals. get a job doing it.


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