up is a 2009 american computer-animated film produced by pixar animation studios and released by walt disney pictures. the film centers on an elderly widower named carl fredricksen (ed asner) and an earnest boy named russell (jordan nagai); by tying thousands of balloons to his house, carl sets out to fulfill his dream to see the wilds of south america and complete a promise made to his late wife, ellie. the film was directed by pete docter and co-directed by bob peterson, who also wrote the film’s screenplay with docter, as well as the story with tom mccarthy. the music was composed by michael giacchino, who had also composed music for the incredibles and ratatouille.
docter began working on the story in 2004 called heliums, which was based on fantasies of escaping from life when it becomes too irritating. he and eleven other pixar artists spent three days in venezuela gathering research and inspiration. the designs of the characters were caricatured and stylized considerably, and animators were challenged with creating realistic cloth. it was pixar’s first film to be presented in disney digital 3-d.
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up debuted at the 62nd cannes film festival on may 13, 2009, and was released in theaters in the united states on may 29. it was well-received by the media for its characters, themes, narrative, asner’s vocal performance, and giacchino’s score, as was the montage of carl and his wife ellie growing old together. organizations like the national board of review and american film institute named up as one of the top 10 films of 2009. it earned $735.1 million worldwide, and became the sixth highest-grossing film of 2009. up earned five nominations at the 82nd academy awards, winning two for best animated feature and best original score, and also received numerous accolades.
young carl fredricksen idolizes explorer charles f. muntz. when accused of fabricating the skeleton of a giant bird he brought back from paradise falls in south america, muntz leaves, and vows not to return until he has captured one alive. carl meets a girl named ellie, also a muntz fan, who confides her desire to move her “clubhouse”—an abandoned house in the neighborhood—to a cliff overlooking paradise falls. the two later marry and live in the restored house, and carl works as a balloon salesman. suffering a miscarriage and unable to have children, they decide to save up to go to paradise falls, but are constantly forced to spend their savings on more urgent needs. now elderly, carl finally arranges for the trip, but ellie falls ill and dies.
years later, carl, now retired, stubbornly holds out in the house while the neighborhood around him is replaced by skyscrapers. when carl accidentally strikes a construction worker during a mishap, the court deems him a public menace and requires him to move to a resting house. however, carl resolves to keep his promise to ellie to go to paradise falls, turning his house into a makeshift airship using thousands of helium balloons and flying away. russell, a young “wilderness explorer” who visits carl in an effort to earn his final merit badge for assisting the elderly, becomes an accidental stowaway. before carl can land and send russell home, they encounter a storm which drives them all the way to south america.
the house lands on a tepui opposite paradise falls. carl and russell harness themselves to the still-buoyant house and begin to walk it across the mesa, hoping to reach the falls before the balloons deflate. russell encounters a giant, colorful flightless bird, whom he names “kevin”. they then meet a golden retriever named dug, who wears a special collar that allows him to speak and who vows to take the bird to his master. the next day, they encounter a pack of aggressive dogs led by alpha, a doberman pinscher, and are taken to their master, who turns out to be an elderly muntz. he invites carl and russell aboard his dirigible, where he explains that he is still searching for his giant bird. when russell notes the skeleton’s resemblance to kevin, muntz becomes hostile, believing they are attempting to capture the bird themselves.
carl, russell and dug flee, and are pursued by the dogs. kevin saves them, injuring her leg in the process. carl agrees to help her get home, but just as kevin is ready to reunite with her chicks, muntz captures her and starts a fire beneath carl’s house, forcing him to choose between saving it or kevin. carl saves the house and eventually reaches the falls, but russell is upset at carl for abandoning kevin. carl looks through ellie’s childhood scrapbook and is surprised to find that she has filled in the blank pages with photos of their marriage, along with a note written from her hospital bed, thanking him for the “adventure” and encouraging him to have a new one.
reinvigorated, carl goes outside, only to see russell flying away, using some balloons and a leaf blower, to rescue kevin. carl throws out his furniture and keepsakes, lightening the house enough to follow. muntz captures russell, but carl and dug board the dirigible and
miễn phí both russell and kevin. muntz pursues them to carl’s house, but they escape by jumping back to the airship, while muntz gets caught on some balloon lines and falls to his death. the house, having lost too many balloons, descends out of sight through the clouds.
carl and russell reunite kevin with her chicks and fly the dirigible back home, taking all of muntz’s dogs with them. russell receives his “assisting the elderly” badge, and carl presents russell with a grape soda bottle cap that ellie gave to carl when they first met, which he now dubs “the ellie badge”. meanwhile, unbeknownst to carl, his house has landed on the cliff beside paradise falls, fulfilling his promise to ellie.
- ed asner as carl fredricksen: a retired salesman and widower who flies his house to paradise falls to fulfill a childhood dream he shared with his late wife ellie. docter and rivera noted asner’s television alter ego, lou grant, had been helpful in writing for carl because it guided them in balancing likable and unlikable aspects of the curmudgeonly character. the appearance of carl was designed to resemble spencer tracy as he appeared in his final film, guess who’s coming to dinner. when they met asner and presented him with a model of his character, he joked, “i don’t look anything like that.” they tailored his dialogue for him, with short sentences and more consonants, which “cemented the notion that carl, post-ellie, is a disgruntled bear that’s been poked awake during hibernation”.
- jeremy leary as young carl fredricksen
- jordan nagai as russell: an 8-year-old wilderness explorer of asian american descent who is trying to earn a merit badge for “assisting the elderly” and becomes a stowaway on carl’s house as it flies to paradise falls. throughout most of the film, he makes several comments to carl that suggest that russell’s father and mother are no longer together.
- christopher plummer as charles f. muntz: an explorer who claims to have discovered a species of giant bird and has not been seen since vowing to bring a live specimen from south america. the name of his airship, the spirit of adventure, may have been inspired by charles lindbergh’s airplane, spirit of st. louis. in various interviews, pete docter has mentioned howard hughes and real-life adventurers charles lindbergh and percy fawcett as inspirations for muntz.
- bob peterson as:
- dug: the golden retriever misfit of muntz’s pack of dogs that can all communicate with humans through a device on each of their collars. peterson knew he would voice dug when he wrote his line “i have just met you, and i love you.”, which was based on what a child told him when he was a camp counselor in the 1980s. the dvd release of the film features a short called dug’s special mission, which follows dug just before his first meeting with carl and russell. dug previously appeared in ratatouille as a shadow on a wall that barks at remy.
- alpha: the doberman pinscher leader. pete docter has stated that alpha “thinks of himself as clint eastwood”. despite his menacing appearance, a frequent malfunction in alpha’s translating collar causes his voice to sound comically high-pitched and squeaky, as if he had inhaled helium. the normal voice for his translator is a resonant, intimidating bass. in either voice, alpha has a roundabout speech pattern that causes his sentences to be longer than necessary.
- pete docter as:
- kevin: the “beast of paradise falls”.
- campmaster strauch: russell’s scout leader, seen at the end of the film.
- elizabeth docter as ellie: a bold and adventurous young girl who meets carl in their childhood when he walks into her home and eventually marries him as an adult. the voice actor is the director’s daughter, who also provided some of the drawings shown by ellie. elizabeth only voiced ellie as a child, as the adult ellie had no spoken lines.
- delroy lindo as beta: a rottweiler and one of muntz’s dogs.
- jerome ranft as gamma: a bulldog and one of muntz’s dogs.
- john ratzenberger as tom: the construction worker who asks if carl is ready to sell his house
- david kaye as the newsreel announcer.
- danny mann as steve: a construction worker whom carl injures with his walking stick after he accidentally damages carl’s mailbox, landing carl in court.
- mickie mcgowan as edith: a police officer who brings carl home after his court appointment.
- don fullilove and jess harnell as george and a.j.: two nurses who work at shady oaks retirement village.
director pete docter began writing up in 2004 under the title of heliums. he developed the fantasy of a flying house on the idea of escaping from life when it becomes too irritating, which stemmed from his difficulty with social situations growing up. actor and writer tom mccarthy aided docter and bob peterson in shaping the story for about three months. docter selected an old man for the main character after drawing a picture of a grumpy old man with smiling balloons. the two men thought an old man was a good idea for a protagonist because they felt their experiences and the way they affect their view of the world was a rich source of humor. docter was not concerned about an elderly protagonist, stating that children would relate to carl the way they relate to their grandparents.
early concepts differed from the final film. the initial version featured a floating city on an alien planet populated with muppet-like creatures, with two brothers vying to inherit their father’s kingdom, and when the brothers fell to earth, they encountered a tall bird who helped them understand each other. but the story just didn’t seem to work properly, and docter and peterson realized that the most intriguing element was the isolation of the floating city. yet the people living there would consist of a whole community, and were therefore not really isolated. so the whole city was stripped down to a single flying house with just a single occupant, where balloons replaced the magic which kept the floating city up. after that they got the idea to use an old person, and found the contrast between the elderly grumpy man and the happy balloons in docter’s drawing appealing, inspiring them to work out his backstory. the next concept introduced many of the elements that eventually made their way into the film, but had carl and russell landing the house on a soviet-era spy airship camouflaged as a giant cloud rather than on a tepui. this concept was rewritten due to its similarity to another idea pixar was developing. another idea docter added, then removed, was magic fountain-of-youth eggs laid by the bird, in order to explain the age discrepancy between muntz and carl, but they decided this subplot was too distracting, and people would forgive the minor inconsistency. also, the biggest single influence on up early on was the station agent, by tom mccarthy.
docter noted the film reflects his friendships with disney veterans frank thomas, ollie johnston, and joe grant (who all died before the film’s release and thus the film was dedicated to them). grant gave the script his approval as well as some advice before his death in 2005. docter recalled grant would remind him the audience needed an “emotional bedrock” because of how wacky the adventure would become; here it is carl mourning for his wife. docter felt grant’s personality influenced carl’s deceased wife ellie more than the grouchy main character, and carl was primarily based on spencer tracy, walter matthau, james whitmore, and their own grandparents, because there was “something sweet about these grumpy old guys”. docter and jonas rivera noted carl’s charming nature in spite of his grumpiness derives from the elderly “hav[ing] this charm and almost this ‘old man license’ to say things that other people couldn’t get away with … it’s like how we would go to eat with joe grant and he would call the waitresses ‘honey’. i wish i could call a waitress ‘honey’.”
docter revealed the filmmakers’ first story outline had carl “just want[ing] to join his wife up in the sky. it was almost a kind of strange suicide mission or something. and obviously that’s [a problem]. once he gets airborne, then what? so we had to have some goal for him to achieve that he had not yet gotten.” as a result, they added the plot of going to south america. the location was chosen due to both docter’s love of tropical locations, but also in wanting a location carl could be stuck with a kid due to the inability to leave him with an authority such as a police officer or social worker. they implemented a child character as a way to help carl stop being “stuck in his ways”.
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docter created dug as he felt it would be refreshing to show what a dog thinks, rather than what people assume it thinks. knowledge of canine communication, body language and pack behaviors for the artists and animators to portray such thoughts came from consultant dr. ian dunbar, veterinarian, dog behaviorist, and trainer. the idea for alpha’s voice derived from thinking about what would happen if someone broke a record player and it always played at a high pitch. russell was added to the story at a later date than dug and kevin; his presence, as well as that of the construction workers, helped to make the story feel less “episodic”.
docter auditioned 400 boys in a nationwide casting call for the part of russell. nagai, who is japanese american, showed up to an audition with his brother, who was actually the one auditioning. docter realized nagai behaved and spoke non-stop like russell and chose him for the part. nagai was eight years old when cast. docter encouraged nagai to act physically as well as vocally when recording the role, lifting him upside down and tickling him for the scene where russell encounters kevin. east asian americans have positively noted pixar’s first casting of an east asian lead character, in contrast to the common practice of casting non-east asians in east asian parts, particularly in the role of an “all-american” boy without any stereotypes typically seen with east asian characters, such as martial arts.
carl’s relationship with russell reflects how “he’s not really ready for the whirlwind that a kid is, as few of us are”. docter added he saw up as a “coming of age” tale and an “unfinished love story”, with carl still dealing with the loss of his wife. he cited inspiration from casablanca and a christmas carol, which are both “resurrection” stories about men who lose something, and regain purpose during their journey. docter and rivera cited inspirations from the muppets, hayao miyazaki, dumbo, and peter pan. they also saw parallels to the wizard of oz and tried to make up not feel too similar. there is a scene where carl and russell haul the floating house through the jungle. a pixar employee compared the scene to fitzcarraldo, and docter watched that film and the mission for further inspiration. the character charles muntz comes from howard hughes and errol flynn.
docter and eleven other pixar artists visited tepuis in venezuela in 2004 for research.
docter made venezuela the film’s setting after ralph eggleston gave him a video of the tepui mountains of canaima national park; tepuis were previously featured in another disney film, dinosaur. in 2004, docter and eleven other pixar artists spent three days reaching monte roraima by airplane, by jeep, and by helicopter. they also spent three nights there painting and sketching, and encountering ants, mosquitoes, scorpions, frogs, and snakes. they then flew to matawi tepui and climbed to angel falls. docter felt “we couldn’t use [the rocks and plants we saw]. reality is so far out, if we put it in the movie you wouldn’t believe it.” the film’s creatures were also challenging to design because they had to fit in the surreal environment of the tepuis, but also they had to be realistic because those mountains exist in real life. the filmmakers then visited the sacramento zoo to observe a himalayan monal for kevin’s animation. the animators designed russell as an asian-american, and modeled russell after similar looking peter sohn, a pixar storyboard artist who is korean-american. the pixar employees frequently sketch each other during meetings, and a drawing of sohn became the model for russell.
while pixar usually designs their characters to be caricatured, carl was even more so, being only at least three heads high. he was not given elderly features such as liver spots or hair in his ears to keep him appealing, yet giving him wrinkles, pockmarks on his nose, a hearing aid, and a cane to make him appear elderly. docter wanted to push a stylized feel, particularly the way carl’s head is proportioned: he has a squarish appearance to symbolize his containment within his house, while russell is rounded like a balloon. the challenge on up was making these stylized characters feel natural, although docter remarked the effect came across better than animating the realistic humans from toy story, who suffered from the “uncanny valley”. cartoonists al hirschfeld, hank ketcham, and george booth influenced the human designs. simulating realistic cloth on caricatured humans was harder than creating the 10,000 balloons flying the house. new programs were made to simulate the cloth and for kevin’s iridescent feathers. to animate old people, pixar animators would study their own parents or grandparents and also watched footage of the senior olympics. the directors had various rules for carl’s movements: he could not turn his head more than 15–20 degrees without turning his torso as well, nor could he raise his arms high. however, they also wanted him to grow more flexible near the end of the film, transforming into an “action hero”.
a technical director calculated that to make carl’s house fly, he would require 23 million balloons, but docter realized that such a high number made the balloons look like small dots. instead, the balloons created were made to be twice carl’s size. there are 10,297 balloons for shots of the house just flying, 20,622 balloons for the lift-off sequence, and a varying number in other scenes.
up is the third pixar film to be scored by michael giacchino, after the incredibles and ratatouille. what pete docter wanted most importantly out of the music was the emotion, so giacchino wrote a character theme-based score that producer jonas rivera thought enhanced the story. at the beginning of the movie, when young carl is in the movie theater watching a newsreel about muntz, the first piece of music heard is “muntz’s theme”, which starts out as a celebratory theme, and echoes through the film when muntz reappears 70 years later. “ellie’s theme” is first heard when she is introduced as a little kid and plays several times during the film in different versions; for instance, during the sequence where carl lifts his house with the balloons, the theme is changed from a simple piano melody to a full orchestral arrangement. giacchino has compared the film to opera since each character has a unique theme that changes during a particular moment in the story.
the score was released as a digital download on may 26, 2009, three days before the film opened in theaters. it won the academy award for best original score, the grammy award for best score soundtrack album, the golden globe award for best original score, and the 2010 bafta award for best film music. it is the first score for a pixar film to win the oscar (randy newman also won for monsters, inc. and toy story 3, but in the category of best original song).
up debuted at the 62nd cannes film festival on may 13, 2009, the first animated film to do so, followed by a premiere on may 16, at the el capitan theatre in los angeles. despite pixar’s track record, target corporation and walmart stocked few up items, while its regular collaborator thinkway toys did not produce merchandise, claiming the film’s story is unusual and would be hard to promote. disney acknowledged not every pixar film would have to become a franchise. in colombia, unexpected publicity for the film was generated due to the uncanny similarity of carl with colombian ex-president julio césar turbay ayala. docter intended for audiences to take a specific point from the film, saying:
basically, the message of the film is that the real adventure of life is the relationship we have with other people, and it’s so easy to lose sight of the things we have and the people that are around us until they are gone. more often than not, i don’t really realize how lucky i was to have known someone until they’re either moved or passed away. so, if you can kind of wake up a little bit and go, “wow, i’ve got some really cool stuff around me every day”, then that’s what the movie’s about.
walt disney studios home entertainment released up on blu-ray and dvd on november 10, 2009. physical copies contain two short films partly cloudy and dug’s special mission, audio commentary, a documentary adventure is out there, the many endings of muntz (an alternate ending of sorts), and a digital copy. the blu-ray edition has a four-disc pack that adds cine-explore with bonusview, global guardian badge and geography games, eight documentaries, and bd-live to the deluxe dvd and digital copy platters. a limited edition, known as the luxo jr. premium pack, includes a collectible lamp modeled after pixar’s bouncy short star that is designed to hold a complete pixar blu-ray collection. on itunes, it was later accompanied by a short film as an extra, george and a.j., which was also released on youtube. up was released on 4k blu-ray on march 3, 2020.
in its first week, it sold 3,969,792 units ($66,057,339) and eventually reached 10,811,453 units ($182,591,149), becoming the best-selling dvd among those released in 2009 in units sold. it also became the third in sales revenue behind transformers: revenge of the fallen, and twilight.
up earned $293 million in the united states and canada and $442.1 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $735.1 million, making it the sixth highest-grossing film of 2009.
in the united states and canada, exit polling showed extensive family attraction across a variety of audiences; 53% were female and 57% were under 17. released alongside drag me to hell on may 29, 2009, up made $21.4 million on its first day. it went on to debut with $68.2 million from 3,766 theaters, 1,530 of which were in 3d. its second weekend saw the box office drop by 37% to $44.3 million, and up grossed another $30.5 million the following weekend. up completed its theatrical run in the united states and canada on december 5, 2009.
on review aggregator website rotten tomatoes, the film holds a 98% approval rating based on 298 reviews, with an average rating of 8.70/10. its critics consensus reads, “an exciting, funny, and poignant adventure, up offers an impeccably crafted story told with wit and arranged with depth, as well as yet another visual pixar treat.” metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 88 out of 100 based on 37 critics, indicating “universal acclaim”. audiences polled by cinemascore gave the film a rare average grade of “a+” on an a+ to f scale.
film critic roger ebert gave the film four out of four stars and called it “a wonderful film.” the hollywood reporter lauded the film as “winsome, touching and arguably the funniest pixar effort ever, this gorgeously rendered, high-flying adventure is a tidy 90-minute distillation of all the signature touches that came before it.” although the san francisco chronicle noted that the film “contains many boring stretches of mindless freneticism and bland character interaction,” it also declared that there are scenes in up of “such beauty, economy and poetic wisdom that they belong in any anthology of great movie moments … to watch up with any attention is to be moved and astonished by the economy with which specific visuals are invested with emotion throughout [the film]. … “ variety enthused that “up is an exceptionally refined picture; unlike so many animated films, it’s not all about sensory bombardment and volume … unsurprisingly, no one puts a foot wrong here. vocal performances … exude a warm enthusiasm, and tech specifications could not be better. michael giacchino’s full-bodied, traditional score is superlative …” the globe and mail stated that up is “the kind of movie that leaves you asking ‘how do people come up with this stuff?'” along with an overall positive review on the film, despite it being predictable.
the character of carl fredricksen has received mostly positive reception. bill capodagli, author of innovate the pixar way, praised carl for his ability to be a jerk and likable at the same time. wall street journal editor joe morgenstern described carl as gruff, comparing him to buster keaton, but adds that this begins to wear thin as the movie progresses. he has been compared with spencer tracy, an influence on the character, by the washington post editor ann hornaday and empire editor ian không lấy phír, who describes him as similar to a “guess who’s coming to dinner-era” tracy. entertainment weekly editor lisa schwarzbaum described his appearance as a cross between tracy and an eccentric out of a george booth cartoon. time editor richard corliss also makes the comparison, calling him a “trash compacted version” of tracy. he has also been compared to walter matthau, another inspiration for the character’s design, by la weekly editor scott foundas, suggesting that actor ed asner was channeling him while performing the role of carl. variety editor todd mccarthy described carl as a combination of both tracy and matthau.
the relationship between carl and his wife ellie has been praised in several media outlets. in his book disney, pixar, and the hidden message of children’s films, author m. keith booker described the love between carl and ellie as touching. while also describing the scene of the two of them aging as a “masterpiece of its own kind,” he was not sure how much children would appreciate the scene, commenting that his son was squirming in his seat during the scene. reelviews editor james berardinelli praised their relationship, stating that it brought a tear to his eye in a way no animated film has done, including anything by famed anime director hayao miyazaki. ann hornaday praised the prologue, describing it as “worthy of chaplin in its heartbreaking poignancy.” chicago tribune editor michael phillips praised the scene, describing it as an emotional and cinematic powerhouse, and that he also was nearly moved to tears. however, salon editor stephanie zacharek criticized the love between carl and ellie, describing their marriage as resembling a dental adhesive commercial more than a real relationship.
edward asner was praised in several media outlets for his portrayal of carl. san francisco chronicle editor mick lasalle praised asner as a great choice due to having a grumpiness to his voice that is not truly grumpy, but rather coming from a protective stance. entertainment weekly editor lisa schwarzbaum praised asner’s acting, stating that he has a “lou grant authority” to his voice. time editor richard corliss stated that asner had the “gruffness and deadpan comic timing to bring carl to life.” the boston globe editor ty burr concurred with this, stating that his lou grant-like voice had not diminished with time. usa today editor claudia puig praised asner’s delivery, describing it as superb.
the formulation of russell as an asian-american character, along with the casting of an asian-american in the role was met positively as well. both nagai and the film were awarded by the east west players for the depiction of russell. ewp lauded pixar for the creation of the character, stating, “we are proud to honor a very progressive film company like pixar who cast an asian-american character alongside an elderly one to play the leads in a feature film.” the character is noted as pixar’s first lead asian character, and was further positively received within the added context of historical non-asian castings for asian roles in entertainment. asian-american organizations and entertainment websites, such as media watchdog media action network for asian americans (manaa), racebending.com, and angry asian man praised the character and pixar for its diverse character depictions, noting the general lack of asian-american lead characters and asian actors cast in entertainment. in an interview with npr in 2013, angry asian man’s phil yu reflected on the character’s lack of typical asian stereotyping, stating, “you know, he just happens to be asian and he’s, you know, really adorable character. but that kid could’ve been of any ethnicity but they made the effort to make him asian—just a little color, you know, and it’s really wonderful when that kind of thing happens where they don’t have to play that up and make it like a thing or a joke, which happens a lot.”
up appeared on professional rankings from empire based on retrospective appraisal, as one of the greatest films of the twenty-first century. it has appeared on several lists of the best animated films, including: entertainment weekly (2009), time (2011), usa today (2018), rolling stone (2019), esquire (2020), parade, and empire (2021).
up led the 82nd academy awards season with five nominations (including best original screenplay). the film received two oscars: best animated feature and best original score. aside from nine nominations earned at the 37th annie awards, the film won two awards (including directing in an animated feature production for docter and best animated feature). at the 67th golden globe awards, it won best animated feature film and best original score. among the film’s nominations include four critics’ choice awards (winning two) and four british academy film awards (winning two). it was named one of the ten best films of 2009 by the national board of review (which won best animated film) and the american film institute.
a video game of the same name was released in 2009 for multiple platforms. kinect rush: a disney–pixar adventure (2012) features characters and worlds from five of pixar films, including up.
a streaming series of short films following up, dug days, was released in 2021. it focuses on dug and carl as they reside in suburbia.
- cluster ballooning
- lawnchair larry flight
- vera coking, a real-estate holdout
- edith macefield, another real-estate holdout
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- official website at disney
- official website at pixar
- up at imdb
- up at the tcm movie database
- up at allmovie
- up at the big cartoon database