Spotlight On: Up (2009)

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On this “special day,” it seems appropriate to write about one of the best love stories of recent years…even if it ends tragically within the first ten minutes. Nevertheless, “Up” portrayed a better love story in this opening than a lot of movies can do in a full run-time. There were at least three other films I could have shined the spotlight on for 2009, but “Up” is too brilliant, too heartwarming, and too sincere to skip on.

Within these first ten minutes or so, we’re introduced to Carl at a young age as he meets Ellie, who he immediately develops a strong bond with that grows into a romance. This romance blossoms into a lifetime of happiness, as Carl and Ellie live their years together in seemingly perfect harmony, getting married and growing old together. Under the surface, though, it’s apparent Carl feels some sort of guilt. As they grow older, Carl realizes he hasn’t fulfilled a promise he made to Ellie all those years ago as kids. The promise was to go on an adventure to the lost land of Paradise Falls in South America, and every time they’d raise money they’d have to spend it on something else. Time passes, and before Carl can fullfil his promise, Ellie passes away.

Sounds like a full-length movie, right? Like if Amour was toned down for kids. Well this is only the beginning, and it’s done in an extremely touching way. The majority of the opening is silent, with Carl and Ellie’s years flashing by in a cheerful but ultimately heartbreaking sequence. What follows is an adventure that introduces us to characters we can love or love to hate, and one that will test Carl’s dedication, spirit, and heart.

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Carl’s not the easiest guy to like at the start of the film. Understandably so, since he just lost the love of his life after nearly 70 years. It takes a young boy named Russell (trying to get an Assisting the Elderly badge), a talking dog named Dug, and a strange, rare, giant bird named Kevin to make him see the brighter side of things, let things go, and find acceptance. Upon being harassed to sell his house and move to a retirement home, Carl lifts his house from the ground with thousands of balloons to finally sail to Paradise Falls. Unknowingly, Russell hitched a ride. Adventure ensues that pits Carl and his new friends against his childhood hero (and his army of talking dogs), who’s trying to capture Kevin for himself.

I said before that the love story “ends tragically” in the beginning. That’s not exactly accurate. The love story never ends. Everything Carl does throughout the movie is for Ellie, even after she’s gone. She might pass away early on in the film, but she feels like a main character throughout, because she’s always there with Carl. It’s not until towards the end that Carl realizes he has to let go of some personal things to really embrace what Ellie would have wanted out of him, and he does her proud. The film comes full circle at the end, as Carl and Ellie’s house ends up atop Paradise Falls, where they always wanted to be.

“Up” is one of those films that might make you the happiest, saddest person at the same time, but it’s never short of amazing. It’s a true testament to the power of love. As the Academy Awards draw closer, you’ll be hearing a lot of “Amour,” the foreign film nominated for best picture about an elderly couple living out their last days together, and the drastic lengths one will go to in the name of love. If “Amour” is the love story that tests our will and commitment of 2012, then “Up” was the family-friendly version of that story in 2009. It’s got that Pixar charm that can rarely be topped.

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