Things That Bugged Me About ‘Up’

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on December 20, 2009). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

To start with, a list of things that I liked about Pixar‘s Up:

  • The animation, as always in a Pixar film, was gorgeous.
  • The opening ten minutes or so were some of the sweetest, saddest, and most touching work I’ve seen Pixar do since Jesse’s song (“When She Loved Me“) in Toy Story 2. Yes, I got sniffly.
  • There were a number of funny bits that got laughs out of me.

But, as I tweeted yesterday, I didn’t end up liking the film as a whole very much. What a tragic, depressing film.

  • Lesson number one: heroes will let you down. After spending his life idolizing the explorer, Carl finds him only to discover that he’s a greedy, obsessed murderous bastard with no redeeming qualities at all. Russell obviously idolized his father, and yet the failure of his father was a recurring theme, which ties right into…

  • Lesson number two: fathers also let you down. All we know about Russell’s father is that he’s been increasingly distant, to the point of being essentially nonexistent, until eventually Carl becomes a surrogate father for Russell.

  • What’s up with Russell’s family, anyway? We spend the entire film hearing about his absent father. There’s not a single moment of worry about Russell’s sudden disappearance when he inadvertently flies away with Carl. At no point do Carl or Russell show any concern about Russell missing his family, or his family missing him. The entire movie had me convinced that Russell was the child of a single-parent family, whose father had grown so distant that there was virtually no emotional bond between them whatsoever, given Russell’s lack of concern about his (admittedly inadvertent) kidnapping by Carl…but then, during the Wilderness Explorer award ceremony, suddenly Russell’s mother is sitting in the audience. He has a mother? What was she thinking during the time that her kid disappeared? Why was she so willing to allow Russell to continue his association with the old coot who kidnapped him, took him to South America, and nearly got him killed?

  • And, finally, there’s the familiar soapbox of Pixar’s roles for women. Let’s run down the women in Up.

    • Ellie. Initially, she’s one of the best female roles we’ve seen yet. As a child, she’s the stronger of the two main characters, taking the lead in her interactions with Carl, avoiding traditional gender stereotypes by fixating on the explorer and dreaming about adventuring around the world, and becoming one of the few Pixar characters available for little girls to look to and emulate.

      Then she marries Carl, grows old, and dies.

      Sure, it’s her memory that helps to prompt Carl to go on his adventure, but she’s not part of this adventure. Her only “adventure” in life was to get married. It’s sweet and all, and many of the moments where we see Carl missing her are very touching, but still…she spends the entire movie dead.

    • Kevin. A bird whose role is essentially comic relief and plot point, given a male name.

    • Russell’s mom. Never referred to, and only seen for a few seconds at the end of the film. As if that’s not bad enough, she wasn’t even allowed to be the proud parent awarding Russell his “Assisting the Elderly” badge when his father didn’t show up — rather, she sat passively out in the audience, apparently willing to allow Russell to be humiliated, until Carl shows up to act as a surrogate father and save the day.

      If Pixar wanted to have Carl step in, then why not have her on stage with Russell for the ceremony, then have Carl politely ask her for permission? Or why couldn’t Carl be in the audience, and have him give Russell Ellie’s pin afterwards, when it’s just Carl, Russell, and Russell’s mom? Why not find some way to arrange things that wouldn’t involve further marginalizing the mother?

  • How did the explorer get all those dogs? He must have added cloning to his list of achievements, as as far as we can tell, every one of those dogs was male. (Okay, you could make an argument that he only gave the translation collars male voices…but why bother to make multiple distinct voices for different dogs, but not bother to make girl voices for the girl dogs? I stand by my assumption that every dog on that ship was a male.)

  • The dogs flying little airplanes went too far. Until that point, all of those dogs were still dogs doing dog things, simply with the added comedy of the translation collars allowing us to hear what they were saying. Once they got in the airplanes, though, they broke the rules of the world that had already been established.

So, once again, we gave Pixar a chance, and once again, we were roundly unimpressed.

8 thoughts on “Things That Bugged Me About ‘Up’”

  1. I had the same complaints about the pilot dogs and the lack of concern over Russel being missing, but then it was pointed out to me that I was bothered by those but OK with he house being flown around the world by a bunch of balloons tied to the fireplace grating.

    I think there’s something to that.

    I was a bit bothered by the flippant death of the bad guy, actually. Falling from great height has got t be a horrible way to go.

    Some of my favorite bits were actually of no real value to the story (“SQUIRREL!”) and Kevin’s wacky antics. I almost wonder how much of that was tacked in after all the test audiences committed suicide from severe depression.

  2. I’m glad someone else notices the paucity of strong, independent female characters in Pixar films. I feel like any critique of their filmmaking is washed away in the constant accolades.

    Aside from Invincibles – where Helen is inarguably the most capable character (and, jealous with fairly good merit) – their films are altogether lacking in dynamic women. I actually turned off Ratatouille after the great female character was downgraded into a wussy sidekick mid-film.

  3. Who gives a fuck what you think? This film is for kids, not for adults to over analyze and complain about, you sound like a butt hurt feminist.

  4. Well, I agree with everything you’ve said so far except for Russell’s mom. As mentioned earlier in the film, Russell had been being taken care of by Phyllis (if that’s how you spell it?). Phyllis was the woman sitting in the audience at the end of the movie. Not Russell’s mother. I think she’s some form of nanny. I really wish more of his family was explained. it would’ve answered so many unresolved questions.

    • This is old but Phyllis was not a nanny, she was his father’s new girlfriend or wife. She is not in movie. Russell’s posdibly Asian mother was.

  5. Your observations are mostly valid, but your conclusion is incorrect

    A reasonable conclusion might be that this film is told primarily from the perspective of an old man, and the second main character is a boy. And the film is narrowly focused on these two characters, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s an artistic choice that gives the film an individualist and/or loneliness quality.

    The main character is an old man finding some meaning left in his life even you would’ve thought everything was over (ie he lived with his wife and grew old together).

    The second main character connects with the primary main character, and gives some purpose to the primary main character’s remaining years in old age.

    It’s absurd to say there is something wrong with all of this, or to demand some kind of “gender inclusiveness” in the name of some twisted “feminist” ideology.

    If you want to say that it’s more common to have a film with (two male main characters) than (two female main characters)… Then okay that’s fine.

    But if you’re going to target “Up” as a sexist movie… It’s a harmless kid friendly movie. It’s innocent and positive and… Well compared to a bunch of other garbage out there, it’s not trashy or disgusting or offensive in any way. You’re really going out of your way to complain about a harmless fun family friendly movie like this when there is so much worse garbage out there all over our entertainment medias (video games, music, TV, movies, etc)

    Give it a rest, and stop trying to turn everything into some kind of twisted leftist crusade for “equality”.

    And guess what… It is both biologically and culturally true that women on average as a group tend to spend a higher focus of their lives on raising children and running families, relative to men who on average as a group tend to spend a higher focus on careers… So it is not a big shocker that Pixar might have more than 50% males.

    And it’s also not a shocker, or a conspiracy, that slightly more than 50% of adventure films might have a slight bias towards male protagonists seeing as there is biological and cultural reasons for this.

    My god, the left is so brainwashed I don’t even know where to start!

  6. As a mom with three boys and a husband who is at work and misses a lot, I have something to say about your view on females roles, especially in UP. First, Ellie. You make it sound like she never accomplished anything but getting married. Just because she didn’t make it to Paradise Falls doesn’t mean that she didn’t live a full life. As a compassionate person, women tend to put everyone else before themselves. We put our mates, children, friends, pets, pretty much anyone before ourselves because that’s how we show we care. Carl felt like he failed her when her Adventure Book resurfaced, but the truth is that any devoted wife would have done the same and done it happily. When Carl revisits her book and sees what she has included in her adventures, her greatest adventure is indeed him. Now, Phyllis. I don’t think Phyllis is Russell’s mom because a momma would have been up on that stage standing in for dear old dad…that’s what mama bears do. I am guessing Phyllis is the nanny hired by wealthy absentee dad. Kevin has a gps and speaks as though his father tries to buy him but is too busy and doesn’t put effort into being around. I think a lesbian partner is far fetched because his actual mother also would have been present. I also don’t think Phyllis is his step-mom, because of her disdain for Rusell’s dad and step-parents aren’t as excited and supportive of step-children as the woman at the Wildness Explorer ceremony.

  7. I have the feeling that Russell’s distant father had custody over him which is why the woman at the end, the mother, is only cheering from the sidelines.

    Phylis, or whatever the spelling was, is the girlfriend of the father or Russell’s step-mom. Which is why Carl was a stand-in for the absent father and therefore is the one who gives Russell the badge instead of the mother.

    The reason why the explorer probably only had male dogs is because they wouldn’t reproduce. It may be hard to control same sex within the compound because reproduction might increase the number of dogs in the limited supply and area for the explorer to keep them. Why the dogs weren’t female is probably because they might reproduce with another species under the canis group seeing that they were in the wilderness and quite possibly come in contact with one. (Although the chances of mating with one and getting eaten by one is 10:100 unless the male is a stray or a scavenger) Between a rut and a heat, I guess they rather a rut cycle that makes male dogs territorial (that may be the same as wolves and other wild dogs) than a heat that makes the female dogs far more territorial and aggressive. (This one, I’m not sure)

    That’s all I actually know, but the rest of what you’ve said is pretty convincing. It makes me wonder how pro-male Pixar truly is.

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