Things That Bugged Me About ‘Up’

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.