In case I haven’t been clear, I absolutely love Disney/Pixar’s new hit family pic, Up. I’m not going to spoil the film if you haven’t seen it — and if you haven’t seen it, go, now, I’ll wait……………………..
Okay, great wasn’t it? As a simple story, it’s nice. As an adventure, it’s good. The humor is fine for kids and enjoyable for adults. And for me, it offers some nice and simple illustrations that can help all people — but especially those of us in Christian community — live better lives. Up is a wonderful set of parables for the modern age about the power of vision, the power of promises, the power of teamwork, the power of the past, and the power of holding on and letting go.
A brief, non-spoiler laden synopsis of the story: Carl and Ellie meet as children, both seeking to become great adventurers. Carl makes a promise to Ellie to take her to Paradise Falls, but life gets in the way and they grow old together. After Ellie passes away, Carl decides it’s time to keep his childhood promise, and using thousands of helium filled balloons, launches his house skyward toward Paradise Falls — with an unexpected hitchhiker, eight-year old Russell, the Wilderness Scout. The rest of the film recounts their adventure, and it is great fun from start to finish.
The Power of Vision
Ellie and Carl share a vision that shapes their dreams for the future. For awhile, they attempt to align their entire life toward reaching their dream, but as they grow older they settle into a “normal” life. However, when Carl’s life is turned upside down, first by Ellie’s death, and then by the potential eviction from his home, he realizes he has nothing left to lose and at long last sets out to realize his and Ellie’s vision. The power of vision is the power to give life purpose and meaning. Its power perseveres throughout life, never losing its attraction and influence. Vision holds the power to give new life. Old, tired, defeated Carl is transformed by the power of his vision, attempting a life-threatening adventure with the vim and vigor of a young Indiana Jones. The power of the vision is even strong enough to become young Russell’s vision as well, until he gains an even higher vision — risking all for the sake of friends. Our churches can benefit from the reminder that without vision, the people perish — that we need a Promised Land to keep us moving through the wilderness. The more powerful the vision, the more faithful the church.
The Power of Promises
Carl is a man of promises — to Ellie, to Russell, to Kevin (don’t ask… if you want to know who Kevin is you have to see the movie), to Doug (ditto), and to himself. Carl fails to keep his promises, not on purpose, but through procrastination and neglect. But his hit-and-miss record for keeping promises doesn’t prevent him from making them. It takes an upright and faithful Wilderness Scout to remind him how important promises, commitments, and vows are, and Carl proves you’re never too old to learn to keep your word. The lesson for the church is simple: we make many vows before God and one another and they hold great power. Keeping our vows is what gives us integrity. Keeping our vows is what forms and binds us into true Christian community. Keeping our vows is what makes us Christian. Taking these vows lightly says a lot about what we truly value.
The Power of Teamwork
One of the beautiful threads throughout Up is the fact that no character can achieve his or her dream without help. Russell needs help getting his last badge — which requires that he help someone elderly. Carl relies on Russell and company to get out of scrape after scrape. Kevin and Doug rely on their newfound friends to get where they need to go. This oddball company proves time after time that we are stronger together than we are apart. Every church can benefit from the reminder that “we” is more important than “me.” Too often, the individualistic, consumeristic, narcissistic, and materialistic values of modern day America infect our congregational cultures. How refreshing to see such a simple, yet touching message of partnership and collaboration.
The Power of the Past
The past can offer us two things: a foundation upon which to build or an anchor to hold us stuck in place. For Carl, the past is both. For a time, it reminds him of broken promises, missed opportunities, and wasted chances. Then, when life conspires to trap Carl in a life he cannot endure, the past becomes the foundation upon which he chooses to build a new adventure. All he ever believed or wanted crystalizes into the fulfillment of his lifelong dream. He builds upon that foundation, and finds that the adventure was everything he ever dreamed it could be. He also learns that a future is always a better place to live than a past. Our churches really need to learn this lesson. No matter how great the past might have been, it cannot be the future. Too often, we keep delaying living fully in the present and building a better future, hoping to somehow reclaim a golden (and often romaticized) past. When the past provides a powerful foundation, it offers a springboard into a great tomorrow.
The Power of Holding On and Letting Go
Holding on to dreams is tangibly realized as holding onto the garden hose that links Carl to his floating house. He and Russell walk the house over rocks and hills, through jungles and streams, across chasms and cataclysms, refusing to let go no matter how painful or daunting the task. Time after time, Carl and Russell are faced with choices that demand they decide what is worth holding onto and what is worth letting go. In the end, letting go is not so painful because they learn to hold onto each other. Churches that flourish are churches with clear priorities — congregations that know what to hold onto and what to let go. Letting go is hard. It takes courage. It takes determination. And often it takes having something better to grab hold of. The problem we have to face is this: if our hands are full of the things we can’t let go of, we won’t be ready to take hold of the new blessings God is ready to give.
Up is a classic for kids of all ages. I can’t wait to see it again. And don’t worry, no balloons were actually harmed in the making of this film (nor did they land in the ocean killing any fish… like Nemo.)