Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Up -- life as an adventure
Director: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson, 2009
When you're at the top of your game, where do you go? Either down or up. After the wonderful Wall-E, Pixar clearly decided their direction was up, with this latest movie Up!
Up has all you would expect from a Pixar movie: marvellous story, comic humor, heartfelt emotion, great voice acting, terrific animation and a super score by Michael Giacchino. In fact the story is so good that you forget that this is an animated movie.
The first act shows Carl as a young boy dreaming of a life of adventure. Watching the black and white newsreels at the movies, he sees his hero, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), a Lindbergh-like explorer discovering the long lost lands of South America. (History buffs will know this is an ironic play on Charles Mintz, the film producer who took Disney's first creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, for his own, and in so doing forced Walt to come up with Mickey Mouse; guess which was luckier!) Muntz voices the idea that compels Carl to action: "Adventure is out there!" When Carl meets Ellie, a like-minded young girl, both are ready to take on the world.
What follows then is a beautiful montage that shows Carl and Ellie dating, marrying and growing old together, child-less. With no dialog, this short portion is reminiscent of the first half of Wall-E. It is a silent film, conveying emotional material with vivid visual imagery alone.
Their dreams of exploring Paradise Falls in South America disappear with the onset of each new problem life throws at them, until Ellie's death leaves Carl (Ed Asner) a gray and grumpy old-man. Seventy years have passed and his dreams lie on the floor like the confetti thrown at a wedding but then left abandoned as the honeymoon starts. As he sits alone looking back at the mementos of his life, we see his regret at never achieving his dreams.
There are two major lessons that Up imparts in its storyline. The first is to avoid forfeiting the adventure. Like Carl, we can get so caught up in the details of life that we give up on our dreams. We all have dreams, or had dreams at one point. These might be big, like flying to the moon. They might be more limited, like flying to South America to explore. Or they might even be focused, becoming a Hollywood star or Broadway diva. Some have down-to-earth dreams of being a small business owner, running a restaurant, road-tripping across all 49 contiguous states of America. Whatever they might be, the incidental costs of life will chip awat at these dreams incessantly until we are worn down and the dreams are forgotten. We must be relentless at keeping the dream alive. We must take life by the horns and experience the adventure. If we put it off, we will never get to it, we will never make it happen.
If we have a dream, a calling, we must not let others discourage or dissuade us from pursuing it. Paul, the great apostle of the first century, was called to be a missionary and left a life of "successful Pharisaism" (Acts 7:57, 9:1-2) to become an adventurous missionary (Acts 13). He blazed new trails bringing the gospel to those in southern Europe. His God-given dream (Acts 9:15-16) led to a life of adventure, a life fraught with difficulties nonetheless (Acts 16:22-23). Yet, he followed his calling, not being side-tracked by the trivial worries of life. We, too, should consider following our dreams.
When Carl is forced to abandon his life-long home, the one he shared with Ellie and which contains ghosts of happier times, he decides it is time to throw caution to the winds and follow his dreams, fulfilling the promise he made to her. If he couldn't make it to South America with Ellie he will do it alone with her memory. And he casts off, with thousands of helium-filled balloons taking his house up into the sky and awaiting adventure. What he doesn't count on is a castaway -- Russell (Jordan Nagai), a hapless boy scout looking for one more merit badge.
Together these two unlikely adventurers, make it to South America where they encounter a rare bird named Kevin, talking dogs and a twisted enemy. The dogs voice their thoughts, an interesting concept as there is no guile in some of the canine comments. Dug (Bob Peterson), for example, says, "My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you."
As Carl and Russell traverse the unexplored territory they are literally held down by the ropes tied to the levitating house. They are carrying the weight of Carl's world on their backs. In one scene, as the balloons start to lose their helium, Carl realizes that the only way for it to go up again is to rid it of excess weight. What a metaphor for life!
Sometimes we are held back from our potential by the baggage we choose to carry with us. It may be unforgiven sins. Perhaps it is the grudges we bear against those who have hurt us. Or we may have emotional wounds that are still open and weeping. Relational and physical baggage will only hold us down from soaring with our dreams. They will not help, they only hinder. Much like the scene in The Darjeeling Limited when the brothers let their luggage go so as to catch the train, so Carl gets rid of much of what kept him going and in doing this he enabled himself to move on.
The second great lesson from Up is that life is the adventure. When Carl looks into the scrapbook that Ellie kept, he finds that her life with him was her great adventure. It may have looked boring to others, but it was an adventure to her.
By the time we reach our mid-life years most come to realize that life is mundane. The great adventure we dreamed we would live out is gone. This is mid-life crisis. But we are surrounded by family and friends who love us. We have houses or homes filled with warm memories. We have jobs or vocations. Life may seem boring but it is life, and this life is the grand adventure. If we are raising kids, we may have sacrificed our dreams of world travel and new "toys," but we can experience the sublime moments in their lives: the winning shot, the song sung in the musical, the first date, the walk down the aisle. These moments make up the better dream.
Russell said it well when he spoke to Carl: "Sometimes it's the boring stuff I remember the most." And King Solomon, certainly a man who lived a grand adventure, said it best: "So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad" (Ecc. 8:15). And again he commented, "Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love" (Ecc. 9:9).
Though Up's second lesson seems contradictory to the first, it is actually complementary. We should not forfeit the adventure because life is the adventure, boring and all. Go follow your dream!
Copyright 2009, Martin Baggs
at 9:09 AM