This morning, a good friend of mine forwarded me an e-mail entitled “Pixar’s UP: Adorable or Deplorable?”. In the E-mail, Pixar was accused of “subtlely advancing the agenda of emasculating society” through “sins of omission” of “all fathers” as was relayed by his niece (?). Well this got to me (and yes, I’m angry about other stuff going on right now) and so I wrote a long-winded rant in defense of “UP”. I’m not going to post my friend’s e-mail out of respect of privacy, but since I spent a while crafting my response, I feel proud enough to post it here:
!!! WARNING – SPOILERS BELOW !!!
I’m sad about your e-mail. I’m also confused. I can’t tell if you saw it yourself or if you’re just going off what someone else said. When I told you how much I loved UP, you were dismissive because “the characters seemed unendearing”. I remember you saying to the effect of “Andy Rooney and a Squinty-eyed little freak?”. (The kid is Asian, dude! I was shocked you would say something like that). I let that bother me for the rest of the day, because UP was a ray of sunlight during this trying time in my life.
I had a very different take on it. Yes, the Russel’s father was absent (something I can relate to too well) and he tried the to be the best scout he could to earn approval (another thing I can relate to). In the end, the deadbeat dad didn’t come through (amen), and the thing that touched me, is that the cranky old Carl took him under his wing and mentored him. He made a transition of taking the pain of his past and using his gold to bless and mentor this young boy. Then the end credits shows them doing all the things that Russel’s dad didn’t do with him – Fishing, eating ice cream, going to the movies, etc. I stayed through the credits and cried the whole time.
Disney’s track record of omitting father figures has bothered me for years. But keep in mind that this was a PIXAR movie. There’s a difference there, and I saw this as redemption for Disney’s sins of the past. Mentoring / father figures / hero worship is one of the core themes of this movie. Additionally, the mature themes of marriage, death, unrealized dreams, mourning, overcoming grief, disillusionment, surrogacy, disappointment, loneliness, old age, protection, forgiveness and passion are all very heavy prominent themes all throughout. I was in tears within the first ten minutes (and even before that if you count the short “partly cloudy”).
To me, the fact that the explorer character turned out to be the villain emphasized the disillusionment that one receives from placing a hero on a pedestal. It didn’t undermine Carl and Ellie’s dream. And it started the chain of events that caused Carl to introspect and realize that it wasn’t too late to start a new adventure – in mentoring Russell.
I saw the undoubtedly PRO-masculine message in this movie. It was far from deplorable and so much more than adorable. It held a very deep and touching message that made me feel golden for days. I gushed about it to my friends on staff at the NWTA a week later because of it’s pro-masculine and uplifting message. I can honestly say now that it’s one of my favorite movies ever.
I don’t know if your niece and I saw the same movie. I didn’t see any emasculation or “subtle agenda advancing”. UP was the best movie I’ve seen all year and hands-down the best Pixar film to date. I can’t remember the last movie I saw that affected me so deeply, especially when it comes to my own father wounds.
With the near-universal praise that Up has (rightfully) received I judge that many of those who are critical are simply being contrary for the sake of being contrary. Or perhaps they are holding Pixar films to an impossible standard, while letting other mediocre, timely, pop-culture referencing fluff like “Shrek” “Chicken Little” or “Madagascar” (Dreamworks & Disney I’m looking at you) pass for decent entertainment for our kids. That’s deplorable.
In the so-called “Summer of Sh*t” (not my words, but true), Up stands out as a freaking diamond. It would in any other year as well.