How ‘Up’ Teaches Us to Move On From the Past

You can’t run away from the past. Not even with 12 million balloons.
Pixar Up
By  · Published on June 26th, 2019

The first 10 minutes of Pixar’s Up are almost guaranteed to make you cry as you see the beginning and end of Carl and Ellie Frederickson’s adventure together. But starting with these emotions was the best choice for this film because it allows us to understand the sadness that overwhelms Carl after the death of Ellie. We then have an idea of why he begins his journey wallowing in grief and can see the importance of him needing to change his outlook about the future.

In pursuit of achieving his late wife’s childhood dream, Carl uses thousands of helium balloons to float his house to the exotic destination of Paradise Falls. However, things begin to go awry once his stowaway, Wilderness Explorer Russell, discovers the mysterious bird he calls “Kevin.” The majestic beast is the prime target of the famed explorer Charles Muntz, who will stop at nothing to capture her. When Muntz’s malicious intentions are revealed, Carl is the only one who hesitates because he is still stuck in the past.

At the start of the film, all of the characters are stuck in the past in one way or another. Carl is unable to move on from Ellie’s death and refuses to let his life change without her. Russell can only think about becoming a Senior Wilderness Explorer since he believes that will be the moment his dad finally notices him. Muntz is obsessed with redeeming his reputation within the scientific community at any cost. The only exception to this is Kevin, whose sole focus throughout the film is returning to her children. Essentially, she is only thinking about her future and becomes a symbol for characters being able to move on from their past.

Russell is the first to make this change when he chooses to attempt a rescue mission without Carl.  When he gets rid of his sash with all of the badges earned in order to become a Senior Wilderness Explorer, Russell is finally able to have a goal that goes beyond connecting with his dad. Although he never forgets his dad’s lack of involvement, as seen at the ceremony when Russell becomes a Senior Wilderness Explorer, this decision shows he has the capability to not let that bad experience control the rest of his life.

However, it takes longer for Carl to make the same realization as Russell. In terms of being controlled by their pasts, Muntz and Carl are at the same level. Both have the inability to change after one tragedy and fail to accept that life cannot return to what it used to be. Carl can’t stay in his house forever and wait for it to be the same place as it was with Ellie just like Muntz cannot regain his fame by only capturing Kevin. Their joint obsession with the past brings out the worst in both of them, with Carl being more concerned about the wellbeing of his house than other people and Muntz threatening the lives of Russell and Carl.

What makes Muntz different from Carl is that he is never able to leave the past. Everything about Muntz foreshadows this fatal mistake, including his own name. Back in 1928, Charles Mintz famously disputed with Walt Disney about the production of the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit comic series, resulting in Mintz winning production rights for the character. Because of this, Walt Disney ends up creating Mickey Mouse and enjoying all the success that follows. In this real-life scenario, Walt acts in the opposite way as Muntz and earns a positive outcome when he puts the past behind him.

And just like Walt, Carl is able to reach the same conclusion as Russell after a little help from Ellie. When Carl sees the more recent pages of her Adventure Book, he learns that Ellie was able to do the one thing he couldn’t: move on from the past. She didn’t let the childhood fantasies she created control every decision she made as an adult and she was happy. Although she never got to visit the place she idolized as a child, Ellie was able to adapt and grow from her past rather than stay frozen in time, which led to her and Carl’s happy marriage together. She tells him to go have a new adventure and as he always has, Carl listens to his wife and goes to rescue Kevin. He makes the final step in his journey of acceptance when he chooses to save his friends rather than his house. In the most literal sense, Carl lets go of his past life when Ellie was still alive in order to do what’s best for the future.

Up is a master class in accepting the past, whether it be tragedy or old dreams. It shows the difficulties that people face when trying to move on, as well as the challenges they will have if they don’t. But the lasting impact from this film is that everyone has the capability to accept their past, no matter how impossible it may seem.

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A Sagittarius stuck in the Midwest.