Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
In recent years, Disney’s Pixar Studios has been something of a godsend for parents looking for wholesome, high-quality entertainment. With great films like WALL-E, The Incredibles, and many more, Pixar has provided family films with heart, films that tell genuinely good stories and avoid the crassness that’s so prevalent in many children’s films today. And their films, without being “message movies,” usually provide plenty of food for thought for both kids and adults.
Pixar’s latest effort is simply titled Up, and it’s well worth seeing. Up tells the story of an elderly widower, Carl Fredricksen. Faced with the prospect of being sent against his will to a retirement home, he decides to fulfill a lifelong dream of his and his wife’s, and heads off to Paradise Falls in South America.
From the advertisements for the movie, you’ve probably seen how he gets there—via an elaborate, only-in-the-movies gadget, made up of his house and an enormous bunch of balloons. But Carl’s journey also has something to tell us about the dangers of hanging onto a dream—even a good dream—too long and too hard.
You see, Carl is so obsessed with getting to Paradise Falls that he loses sight of the importance of relationships with others around him. When a little boy named Russell stows away on his flying house, Carl treats the child as little better than a nuisance. And once they’ve made it to South America, as Russell makes friends with a bird and a dog that they encounter, Carl sees the three of them as creatures who are only useful if they can help him get to his destination.
His goal isn’t a bad one. It’s even noble in a way, as he’s pursuing it partly in honor of his beloved late wife. It’s just blinded him to the needs, desires, and worth of others. It’s like C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity about pursuing good things in bad ways. He said, “Pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much.”
What’s interesting is that the villain of the movie is, in a way, exactly like Carl. This villain was an explorer who was unjustly called a fraud when he couldn’t prove that he’d discovered a new South American species. So he spends his life obsessed with restoring his reputation, to the point of running roughshod over any person or anything that gets in his way. His desire for justice—not a bad thing in itself—drives all other moral considerations from his mind.
At the heart of the story is this dilemma: Will Carl become just like this cold and cruel man, or will he finally come to see what’s really important? It takes a poignant reminder of his happy, love-filled marriage to open Carl’s eyes. And I can tell you, it’s a reminder that doesn’t leave a dry eye in the theater.
So take your family to see Up, and visit our website for some discussion questions that you and the kids can talk about afterward. It’ll help all of you see adventure—and human relationships—in a whole new light.