Grief, Loss And Healing In All Its Animated Joy | Up at 15

Disney Pixar’s Up turns fifteen years old this year, and, in those fifteen years, it’s been an animated joy. It highlights not only the visual beauty of the animated medium, but the powerful storytelling techniques that allow us to feel the important themes that also run through our own lives. Grief and loss as well as healing are all aspects of Up‘s story that are developed through our protagonist, Carl Fredricksen. Let’s look back at what made Up take flight.

The basic premise of Up, on a surface level, feels no different to that of any typical Pixar outing. The call for adventure, in this case, comes from Carl’s interaction with Russell. A boy scout who, alongside Dug the dog and a flying house attached to balloons, goes in search of Paradise Falls, a dream destination for Carl’s deceased wife. It’s this element, the urge to relate the story to Carl’s wife Ellie, her passing and his constant growth as a character, turning from misery to happiness, that gives us our masterpiece.

Up explores everything from old age and isolation to friendship and love, and in the opening scenes, gives us snippets of an entire life, full of the ups and downs of reality, and all the beauty and hardships that come with it. These opening moments are what stay with us throughout the film, understanding our hero, and telling us that this won’t be your usual animated ride. It is indeed, something else, looking deeper at grief, something we all go through at some point in life, and wrapping it in aspects of our own mortality. This sounds depressing for a children’s movie and yet, it isn’t all doom and gloom. With a stellar voice cast, including Ed Asner and Christopher Plummer, we see these characters bounce off each other in such a way that despite those harsh themes, comedy is never too far away. It’s this blend of humour and thought-provoking resonance that gives us such a powerful piece. 

The animation itself is smooth and fluid. Despite fitting into the typical style of late 2000s Pixar, it still manages to stand out visually because of its character appeal and colour palette. The team behind Up created a gorgeous aesthetic for its world and made it sing in doing so. There’s something so enthusiastic about the visuals despite their combinations with sadder moments. There are touching moments, stunningly animated in a way that makes us empathise with Carl and his struggles.


It’s impossible not to mention the impact that Up has had as a media franchise in the 15 years since its release. It has spawned a number of short films including ‘Dug’s Special Mission’ as well as most recently, ‘Carl’s Date’, a short released theatrically alongside Elemental. There have been video games, a television series and even themed areas at parks around the world, clearly showing the impact of the characters. The film itself was the sixth highest grossing film of 2009 and even opened the Cannes film festival that year, the first animated release to do so. 

Before we conclude, we must mention the wonderful soundtrack of Up, thanks to the scoring talents of Michael Giacchino, of The Incredibles fame, and note the musical themes that play at various points throughout the film, only enhancing its emotional resonance further. Across 96 minutes, Up managed to capture our hearts, and I could go all day writing about the themes incorporated throughout and the symbols presented to us as an audience. I think doing so would be unfair as words cannot possibly replace the experience of seeing this film for yourselves. So go watch it, because after 15 years, Up is still pulling on our balloon strings.

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