One of my interests is going to the cinema. I’ve seen quite a few films this year, but the one that stands out for me is an animated film intended for both children and adults. It is calledUp and it tells the story of a rather grumpy old man and a small boy.
The small boy meets the grumpy old man for the first time when, as a sort of Cub Scout, he turns up on his door step to try to help him in order to win his badge, ‘Helping the Elderly’. The trouble is that the old man, whose name is Carl, doesn’t want to be helped.
This isn’t actually the beginning of the film, because the firsts ten minutes or so are taken up with explaining to us how it is that Carl, a grumpy old man, is leaving on his own in a brightly-painted old house in the middle of a city. The story starts back in the 1930s with young Carl – a shy, quiet boy – meeting Ellie, an out-going tomboy. They would not be natural friends, one might think, except that they both share an interest in an explorer named Charles Muntz, whose exploits were featured in the cinema newsreels. Young Carl and Ellie both dreamed at being explorers and they played at their dreams in a deserted house in their neighbourhood.
Ellie had a dream that she would go to Paradise Falls, in South America, which was one of the destinations that Charles Muntz had visited and she made young Carl promise to help her get there. There then followed a silent sequence in which the pictures tell us that Ellie and Carl’s childhood friendship turned into adult love and they got married. They bought and moved into the old house in which they played as children and painted it in bright colours. They decorated one room as a nursery, but later found that they were unable to have children. So they grew old together, Ellie working as a zoo keeper and Carl as a balloon salesman. They saved and saved for their trip to Paradise Falls, but every time they were near the amount they needed, a bill came up that needed paying.
Eventually Ellie passed away and Carl was left alone in his brightly-coloured house, his mood very much contrasting with the its décor. Carl felt that he had nothing left in his life and missed his wife terribly.
The city that had once been full of houses like Carl’s , had been developed over the years until Carl’s old house was surrounded and overshadowed by skyscrapers. Developers had been trying to buy Carl’s house, but always he refused to move. Finally a court order was obtained by those who wanted Carl to move in order to have him put into a retirement home. Carl did not want to move and came up with a plan that could only have been hatched by someone who was a balloon salesman. Carl tied thousands of balloons – the sort we use for special birthdays – to the hearth in his house and then inflated them with helium so that they flew up the chimney and lifted the house off its foundations and floated away. He had decided that he was going to Paradise Falls in South America after all, and he would take his house with him. Unfortunately, he hadn’t realised that in his persistence, the young Cub Scout, whose name is Russell, had stowed away in the basement in his keenness to help Carl and to win his ‘Helping the Elderly’ badge.
The main part of the film – and probably the part that would most appeal to children – involves lots of chasing around the South American jungle with Carl, Russell and a pack of talking dogs. Eventually, Carl manages to get to the house landed right above Paradise Falls, the location where Ellie, his childhood sweetheart, had always imagined they would be. But the story hadn’t finished. When Carl went outside, he found young Russell suspended in the air, hanging from a bunch of balloons. If Carl was to rescue Russell he would need to follow him in the house, but the gas and leaked from his balloons and the house was too heavy to be lifted. So Carl made the decision to throw out all his possessions in order to chase after Russell and save him.
I won’t say how the film ends, but circumstances entail Carl losing the house, which settles softly, but empty, back beside the Falls. However, the story ends happily and not unexpectedly with both Russell and Carl safely back home in the city.
It is always difficult explaining something that is essentially visual just using words, but I wanted to try to do so with this film. When I saw Up at the cinema, it was Half term and I was surrounded by children with their Mums and Grannies, and yet here was a story that despite its characters having been drawn on a computer screen, had so much to say about the human condition.
Up is directed by Pete Docter who describes the film as, "… an unfinished love story. This wonderful romance this guy had with his wife and she passes away and it's the unfinished business of dealing with that.”
During this season of Advent our church was thinking about the idea of ‘Journey’. There are lots of journey’s that are connected with the events surrounding the story of the birth of Jesus. Although, I think I’m right in saying that none of this involves a flying house and helium balloons. We have been thinking about the prophets and the journey they took in heralding the coming of God. There was the journeys made by angels – bringing the good news that God was going to send his son to be the Saviour of the world. Then there are the journeys of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem and of the Wise Men who came from the East to worship the new born King of the Jews. The film that I have described tells of a journey, but it tells us something else too, and the Christmas story is the same.
Thinking back to the film, Up, the old man looked again through the scrapbook that his beloved Ellie had kept from her childhood days. It contained the childish pictures she drew of the house at Paradise Falls, but also photographs of their happy life together. On the last page, there was a message from Ellie to Carl that he had not seen before. It read, “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.” And that’s just what Carl had done.
One message we might draw from this story is that a person is never too old to have an adventure. Life does not always turn out as we might have hoped when we were younger – for Carl and Ellie in Up and for Zechariah and Elizabeth in the Christmas story, this meant that they grew into old age without being blessed with children, wondering if life’s adventure had passed them by.
The Christmas story tells us that God does not give up on us. God does not give up on us if we do the wrong job or are the wrong class, like the shepherds. God does not give up on us if we are the wrong religion or were born in the wrong country, like the Wise Men. God does not give up on us if our domestic circumstances are unusual, as was the case with Mary and Joseph. God does not give up on us if we are too young, like Mary, or too old, like Zechariah and Elizabeth.
The Christmas story sends us out into a New Year lived with God, who wants to share in the life we lead. I believe that, if we will let him, God wants to join us in the great adventure of life. I like that line from the film – “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.” – but I think that, as Christian people, we might also look beyond this life to the life that God has promised us – to a life lived intimately with him. I believe that when we cross from this life into the next, God will say to us, “Thanks for letting me share your adventure with you. Now come have an even better one with me”.