Study Guide

Up Themes

  • Old Age

    If you think old people only like to eat hard candy, watch Turner Classic Movies, and talk at length about their acid reflux, think again.

    Sure, the film shows us that it’s easy to become isolated and sad when you’ve lost the things and people you love. But in Up, Carl isn’t just a hero; he’s an action star. Sure, he’s more than a little bit surly, but he uses that old man license to his advantage. Carl does what he wants, he says what he wants, and when his friends are threatened, he’s not afraid to get all medieval and wield his cane like a sword to save the day. Up destroys the tired trope that old people are just supposed to stay out of the way and shows that you’re never too old to seize the day and kick some butt.

    Questions About Old Age

    1. How are young Carl and old Carl different? How are they similar?
    2. Why does Carl react the way he does after he hits the construction worker with his cane?
    3. How do Carl and Muntz present contrasting views on getting older?
    4. Why is Muntz still alive and kicking? Seriously; he must be 100 years old when Carl meets him, right?

    Chew on This

    When it comes to being a hero, Carl’s greatest asset is his old age.

    The message of Up is that you’re never too old to stop deferring your dreams and start making them come true.

  • Isolation

    All Carl wants to do is watch daytime TV in his living room with the shades drawn in peace. Is that too much to ask?

    After losing Ellie, life’s lost a lot of its meaning for Carl. Who knows—maybe he’s afraid of getting attached to anyone again because they just, you know, die. Carl feels the world has no use for him—other than trying to snag his house, of course—and he has no use for the world. “Up taps into a discontent our youth-obsessed culture rarely notices,” film critic Ty Burr explains. So when Carl takes to the skies, it’s more than an adventure; it’s an escape. In his journey to Paradise Falls, he’s not just making good on his promise to Ellie, he’s leaving society and all of its aggravations behind once and for all—or so he thinks.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. What would Ellie think of Carl’s desire to be alone?
    2. How does Russell irritate Carl?
    3. How is Carl’s self-imposed exile different from Muntz’s? How are they the same?
    4. Is Carl just cantankerous or might he also be lonely and depressed?

    Chew on This

    Carl doesn’t travel to Paradise Falls to honor Ellie’s wishes; he goes there to escape an unfriendly world that he feels has passed him by.

    Carl may want to be alone, but let’s be real: without Russell and Dug, his house would never have made it to Paradise Falls.

  • Friendship

    Oscar and Felix. Elliott and E.T.. Turner and Hooch. Carl and Russell rank up right there with the greatest odd couples of all time. Their friendship is a thoroughly unlikely one. As film critic Ian Freer notes, Up is “a buddy movie where the buddies are separated by 70 years.” But it’s precisely that age gap that makes their friendship work. As they tug Carl’s house through the jungle, Carl and Russell bond. Russell starts out as a roly-poly pain in the butt, but by the time they make it to Paradise Falls, he’s become Carl’s trusted ally. He’ll never replace Ellie as Carl’s BFF, but Russell shows Carl the importance of letting people in. Literally and figuratively.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. When does the tide turn in Carl and Russell’s friendship? By that, we mean when does Carl let Russell in? Can you pinpoint it to a certain scene in the movie? How can you tell their relationship has changed?
    2. Setting aside the obvious, like Ellie’s a girl, and Carl marries her, how is Carl’s friendship with Russell similar to his friendship with Ellie? How is it different?
    3. What does Russell get out of being pals with Carl?
    4. Do you think Russell has buddies his own age? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Up proves that an adventure isn’t really worth much unless you have friends at your side.

    Russell can never replace Ellie, but he can show Carl a thing or two—or ten—about the importance of companionship.

  • Love

    Up is an unfinished love story. What do we mean? When Ellie passes away, the book doesn’t close on their lifelong love affair—not because they hadn’t hit Paradise Falls yet, but because theirs is a romance so awesome that it outdoes death. As Carl flies their house to South America, Ellie rides shotgun. If he’s not looking to photos of her for inspiration, he’s straight-up asking her for advice from the great beyond. And here’s the crazy thing: he actually gets it. Ellie’s handwritten note to Carl encouraging him to find a new adventure now that she’s gone isn’t a command to make tracks for South America. It’s a tender request that he clean off his specs and notice that love is all around him. All he has to do is accept it.

    Questions About Love

    1. How does Carl’s journey to Paradise Falls help him cope with his grief?
    2. How would you describe Russell’s relationship with his father?
    3. How does the fact that Carl and Ellie couldn’t have children of their own color Carl’s relationship with Russell?
    4. Do you think the dog pack loves Muntz?

    Chew on This

    Carl’s real quest in Up isn’t Paradise Falls; it’s coming to terms with Ellie’s death.

    Carl may miss his wife something fierce, but Russell’s need for love is even greater.

  • Exploration

    What do you think of when you hear the words “exploration” and “adventure?” Exotic locales, dinosaur bones, maybe an Indiana Jones style leather jacket? What if we told you the biggest, best adventures are right under your nose? No, we’re not talking about that mustache you’ve been working on for the last six months. We’re talking about your own life, your daily grind, your… Well, you get it. The message of Up is that happiness lies in the little moments you share with the people who matter most, like having a donut fight with your sister or teaching your grandpa how to breakdance. Adventure isn’t just out there, it’s in your own backyard. All you have to do is grab a couple of pals and go explore it.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. How are Carl and Muntz’s motivations for exploration different? How are they similar?
    2. Why do you think “the boring stuff” with his dad is the stuff that Russell remembers the most?
    3. How are the concepts of exploration and adventure conveyed through the montage of Carl and Ellie’s marriage?

    Chew on This

    Carl’s had his greatest adventure before Up even starts: his marriage to Ellie.

    Carl’s greatest discovery on his quest for Paradise Falls is the strength of his own heart.