Senior Spotlighted on Screen in Up
by Laura J. Bagby

Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios’ latest animated release, Up, which opens nationwide Friday, May 29, is sure to be yet another enjoyable ride – an adventurous balloon ride, that is.

As the 10th film in Pixar’s history, Up, presented in Disney Digital 3DTM, follows the life of curmudgeonly 78-year-old retired balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen. After losing the love of his life and nearly losing his home too, Carl chooses to fulfill his life-long dream by tying balloons to his house and heading to the jungles of South America. But along the way, Carl must come to terms with a stowaway: 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell. Through wild and funny adventures and the ups-and-downs of this relationship with the clueless young boy, Carl learns to live again and open up his heart to love.

The film’s director, Pete Docter, who made his directorial debut with Monsters, Inc., talked to the press recently about this fun-filled adventure and where he got this idea to cast a senior citizen as the main hero, a decision that goes against the grain of the typical ‘youth sells’ Hollywood mentality.

Apparently, Docter was having more than just some senior moment when he came up with the premise for Up. Time will soon tell, but he might have just struck genius.

Docter recalled that during the early creative stage with co-director Bob Peterson, “One of the first key images that came out was this drawing I’d done of this super grouchy, sour guy with his really wrinkly expression on his face holding these happy, fun, colorful balloons. Something about that contrast of those two things made us laugh and feel as though there was some potential there. That’s the genesis of the idea.”

But who could possible voice the loveable, humorous, and cantankerous senior lead? Who would be both believable and enjoyable to listen to?

“The name that just kept coming up again and again was Ed Asner,” said Docter. “It was like he was born to play this role.”

A rather tongue-in-cheek Asner had to agree.

“Carl is a bit of a curmudgeon, which is why they cast me,” he said. “I truly am a grouch. At present I have six grandchildren. I find them to be the biggest pains in the butt you ever saw. I know that eventually as circumstances throw us together, we’ll find each other and enrich each other. But right now, I’m awfully glad to be away from the noise level.”

The Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor, best known for playing gruff journalist Lou Grant in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, talked more philosophically about his character, Carl.

“There’s a value to be gained by forsaking the past, taking advantage of the present, and using it to go into the future. That’s what I feel he does in this,” said Asner. “Carl had stopped putting energy into his life. It’s the same as a living death. Along comes a change in circumstances, which forces him to acknowledge this boy. And he chooses the living as opposed to death. I think it’s a wonderful example to follow for all people.”

We have seen animated features about toys, bugs, monsters, and robots, and they have all garnered success. But with Up, we not only see the return of the human lead, but the decision to spotlight an elderly man as hero. This is a departure from the typical more kid-centered cartoons of the past.

Will the movie-going public receive this new animated flick with the sort of enthusiasm Pixar hopes for?

“We’re just kind of making movies that we ourselves want to see,” said Docter casually, “and so far, hopefully, that will continue.”

Laura Bagby has a Master's in Communication and a Master's in Journalism. She contributes to Preview On Line as both a reviewer and a journalist. For more on her background, go to http://celluloidcritic.com.