Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: Up

How powerful does an animated movie have to be, to bring viewers to tears within the first ten minutes? Pixar’s 2009 film Up is that powerful. 

Young and awkward, Carl Fredricksen idolizes famed explorer Charles F. Muntz. When Muntz is disgraced amid claims of fabricating a discovery, Carl is still steadfast in his belief in Muntz. 

Carl soon meets a friend, an outgoing (and also awkward) young girl named Ellie, who also dreams of exploration. 

They meet, become sweethearts, marry, dream of a child, prepare a nursery, find that they’re infertile, mourn their infertility, plan new dreams of exploration, save towards those dreams... 

find their dreams consistently postponed by more urgent needs, reach retirement, finally get enough savings to make their journey, and then Ellie grows sick and dies. All within the first eleven minutes and thirty-eight seconds of the movie.

Instead of giving up on life, Carl again creates a new dream. He commits to move his (and Ellie’s) home to Paradise Falls, an exotic location in South America where their childhood hero Muntz engaged in some important exploring. Carl gets there – and finds that Muntz is there, but that Muntz isn’t who he seemed to be. The film moves from the deep to the fanciful, and Carl joins with an (awkward) young scout named Russell on a kid-friendly adventure.

The Adoption Connection
Carl and Ellie came up against infertility, like so many other families in real life (and in cinema.) The Odd Life of Timothy Green and What to Expect When You’re Expecting are two films that covered it fairly well. Unlike most cinematic families dealing with infertility, though, Carl and Ellie decide not to adopt – instead, they choose dreams other than parenthood, and pursue them. They manage to live a full, happy, love-filled life. This could be a message of wisdom and hope for prospective adoptive parents who have been driven to desperation by infertility. There’s always a way within your control to live a meaningful, fulfilling life, it just might not look like you expected it to. Maybe for some, that means adopting an older kid or a sibling set from foster care rather than being matched with an infant; for others, it might mean choosing mentorship rather than parenthood. For others, it might mean holding on and pursuing parenthood, but choosing to approach it from a different mindset that finds meaning along the journey, and not only in the destination. All this from a cartoon. Bravo, Pixar.

There’s so much to like about Up. It’s hopeful while being honest about disappointment, loss, and grief. And that combination – honesty and hopefulness – sounds like the healthiest outcome for anybody – connected to adoption or not. Carl (and his companion Russell) have experienced loss, but approach life with hope and they both demonstrate the ability to be heroic and nurturing.

Carl’s young companion Russell is from a split family; he feels neglected by his parents. He pines for the days when he could spend “boring time” with his father. But on the plus side, Russell is able to find a father figure of sorts (actually, more of a gruff-but-caring grandfather figure) in Carl. Also, Carl’s childhood hero turns out to be a villain, much like Flint experienced in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and like Turbo experienced in… well… Turbo. Kids who’ve been neglected might react negatively to each of these scenarios. And although Russell does find companionship in Carl, it is important to note that Carl is a complete stranger to Russell. Young kids might need help developing the nuanced understanding that, while you probably can find parental-type, good influences – you probably shouldn’t try to find those influences in just any random stranger.

If you haven’t seen Up, see it. The first ten minutes might be the most powerful, grown-up-oriented entertainment you’ll see all year. The rest of the movie is positive, hopeful, and both kid- and family-friendly. I recommend it for adults to see by themselves or as a couple, and for families to enjoy together. Up gets my first ever “all ages” recommendation. Enjoy.

Questions for After the Film

What adventures would you like to have?

How can someone have sad things happen to them, but still try to have good adventures?


  1. Someone once said that UP told a better love story in 11 minutes than Twilight told in several movies. I couldn't agree more (though made for vastly different audiences). Ellie, even though she never speaks as an adult, is one of my favorite Disney depictions of womanhood.

  2. Yes to what J.Darling says. That intro clip had me in tears, a huge lump in my throat. Said so much with so little -- a sign of great film making.

    1. It made me tear up, too. It took a while to be able to watch it again, but I'm glad I did. Beautiful, powerful, and one of the best films I've seen. Not too many animated films get nominated for Best Picture, but this one did, I think.


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