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SoundReels: 10th Anniversary Of 'Up' Is An Adventure For Your Ears

color photo of balloons lifting house in Up
Pixar, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
An iconic moment in the award-winning Pixar-Disney film Up

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the animated film Up, directed by Pete Docter, produced by Pixar and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Set initially in Ohio, Up unfolds in dazzling visuals the outlandish adventures of an elderly widower and a young boy. 

The action and visuals are stunning, and Michael Giacchino's award-winning score energizes the film into an adventure movie that would do Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker and countless other silver screen adventure heroes proud. If you haven't yet seen this young classic, be warned – there will be spoilers.

Up received a string of awards and accolades, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, an Annie Award for Best Animated Feature Film from the Los Angeles Branch of the International Animated Film Association and many others.

Michael Giacchino's score for Up was his third for Pixar. The score earned him an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, a Critics Choice Award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the 2010 award for Best Film Music from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Written by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter and Tom McCarthy, the story of Up revolves around Carl Fredricksen, a widower who, as a boy growing up in Ohio in the 1930s, idolizes the Charles Lindbergh-like explorer Charles Muntz, voiced by Christopher Plummer.

In the film's opening sequence, Carl watches newsreels at the movies about Muntz's daring expedition to South America in his zeppelin named The Spirit of Adventure.

Muntz brings home the skeleton of what he claims is a rare bird from this uncharted territory. But scientists accuse Muntz of fabricating the skeleton. Still, Muntz becomes an idol for young Carl, voiced by actor Jeremy Leary, and Muntz's adventures set Carl's imagination on fire.

Young Carl comes to discover and meet a neighbor girl named Ellie, whose imagination and adventurous spirit outpace Carl's own. Carl hears Ellie's voice from inside an abandoned, boarded-up house, follows the voice inside the house and meets Ellie, played by Ellie Docter, deep in the throes of an imaginary adventure game.

Ellie initiates Carl into her club, which now has just two members. In a later scene, Ellie shows Carl her Adventure Book, a scrapbook full of photos and clippings and dreams of things to do and places to see. Ellie shares her dream to go where Muntz has gone – to South America and the extraordinary Paradise Falls, inspired by Venezuela's Angel Falls.

This scene is underscored by what composer Michael Giacchino calls "Ellie's Theme," the melody that, like a leitmotif in one of Richard Wagner's operas and in countless other film scores, becomes associated with Ellie and her spirit of adventure.

Fast-forward 20 years or so, and Carl, now voiced by Ed Asner, and Ellie have married. In a charming sequence underpinned by a true orchestral fantasy on Ellie's Theme, Carl carries Ellie over the threshold of their new house – the dilapidated house where they first met as children.

They spruce up the place, creating an airy nursery. Ellie gets a job as a guide through the South America exhibition at a Zoo, and Carl sells balloons right outside.

Life Is An Adventure - Ellie And Carl

As the sequence continues, life gives Carl and Ellie both ups and downs. They learn that they will not be able to have children.

Carl reminds Ellie of her childhood Adventure Book, and the couple turn their intentions towards getting to Paradise Falls.

Ellie paints a painting of their little house sitting right next to Paradise Falls, and places the painting above their fireplace. They save hard-earned money for their trips, but accidents keep causing them to dig into their savings and delay their adventures.

Carl and Ellie grow old. Carl can finally plan their trip to Paradise Falls. But Ellie becomes ill, presents her Adventure Book to Carl one last time and passes away.

Now alone and still lovesick for Ellie, Carl gets out of bed, gets dressed and, in a moment of musical wit, rides a motorized stair lift downstairs to the tune of the famous habanera from Bizet's opera Carmen. The text of this world-famous aria begins "love is a rebellious bird that no one can tame."

While Carl watches TV one evening, someone knocks on Carl's front door. Carl opens the door to see a young boy named Russell. Voiced by Jordan Nagai, Russell is a Wilderness Explorer and is trying to earn his merit badge for Assisting the Elderly. Russell asks Carl is he can do something to help him and, thus, to earn the badge. 

In a ploy to get Russell off his front porch and out of his hair, Carl tells Russell to help him by finding the snipe that haunts his yard at night and eats his zinnias. Russell leaves, inspired by this new adventure.

The area immediately around Carl's house becomes a construction site and, after steadfastly refusing to sell his house to the real estate developer, Carl accidently injuries a construction worker, and a court rules that he must move into a retirement community.

Things couldn't look more bleak for Carl when two aides from Shady Oaks Retirement Village arrive to move him from his house.

As the aides wait, a creaking begins in the house. The visuals reveal that a giant plume of colorful helium balloons is lifting Carl and Ellie's house off its foundation. The house floats through the air, and in his homemade version of Charles Muntz's zeppelin, Carl gives the aides from Shady Oaks the slip.

Hundreds of feet in the air, Carl discovers Russell clinging to the front of the house. Carl brings Russell inside. Their adventure to Paradise Falls begins.

And from this point on, the music for Up, just like the plot, is an endless series of episodes in an epic adventure.

When, en route to South America, Carl and Russell run into a storm, the score conveys the dangers of violent wind, lightning and pelting rain and the suspense of the house's descent through the clouds and crash landing on a rocky tepui way up in the Venezuelan mountains.

Carl and Russell walk along the mesa, Carl leading the still-floating house by the garden hose attached as though a balloon on a string. On Carl's first sighting of the legendary Paradise Falls, Giacchino's music invokes the music of myths, echoing the ethereal, high-pitched string scoring from the opening of Richard Wagner's overture to Lohengrin

Carl and Russell begin their walk across the tepui towards Paradise Falls, and along the way find a snipe, a large brightly colored bird whom Russell names Kevin.

They encounter a dog, then a large group of dogs, who surround them. Out of nowhere, Charles Muntz appears and, in what amounts to the realization of Carl's boyhood dream, leads Carl, Russell, Kevin and the dogs back to his venerable blimp, The Spirit of Adventure, parked nearby on the tepui.

Muntz explains that, since his fall from grace, he has been in South America trying to hunt a snipe, such that he can redeem his reputation by proving to the world that the bones he claimed to have brought back from his earlier adventures were real.

Inside the blimp is a veritable museum of animal skeletons, but not one of the elusive snipe. When Russell reveals that the giant bird with them is a snipe, the music gets dark, then turns into chase music as Carl, Russell and Kevin the snipe run away, pursued by Muntz's pack of dogs. 

Carl, Russell and Kevin the snipe are chased by villain Charles Muntz's pack of dogs.

The chase music continues as Carl watches as Muntz sets his floating house on fire and sends his dogs to drag Kevin the snipe into the zeppelin.

Russell, who has become fast friends with Kevin, feels deeply betrayed. Russell is so betrayed, that when they finally reach their destination – Paradise Falls – the musical score reflects not triumph or euphoria, but instead Russell's empty sense of betrayal.

Russell throws down his merit badge sash near Carl, and washes his hands of the whole thing. The absence of music in the soundtrack turns what should be a climactic moment into a way-station freighted with the emotional baggage of unfinished business.

Russell propels himself with a leaf blower from Carl's house toward Muntz's floating zeppelin to rescue Kevin. Carl chases after him, and thus begins the film's greatest adventure sequence. Russell grabs hold of the house's garden hose and dangles from the end. Muntz sends out three of his dogs as fighter pilots in biplanes on a mission to bring down Carl and Russell.

The Final Battle Sequence From Up

Carl gets inside the zeppelin and has a sword fight with Muntz. A fanciful series of events allows Carl and Kevin the snipe to escape the zeppelin and eventually to reunite with Russell. 

Like Pixar's other films, Up is a film that speaks to children through stories that evoke the unbridled imagination of childhood in spectacular candy-hued visuals and riveting music. However Up is also a film that speaks to the child in every adult, the child who, despite the world's harsh realities, believes dreams really can come true.

In the end, Russell got to go to South America and find a snipe. Then, back home he got to sit on the curb and count blue and red cars with Carl, just like he used to do with his dad. Russell also got his Wilderness Explorers badge for Assisting the Elderly. And although his father didn't attend the badge pinning ceremony, Carl did. 

As for Carl, he got to Paradise Falls with Ellie's spirit firmly by his side, he got the child he and Ellie never had, and he got one heck of an adventure.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.