WickedEye's Quotient

11/22/2009 at 22:56


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra didn't invent the Hero, nor yet the Quest. Even the somewhat-bumbling sidekick came on the scene long before Don Quixote's squire Sancho Panza came stumbling across it.

But Cervantes gave to the Quest something new. The idea that a goal which meant nothing to anyone else—which the rest of the world mocked and scorned, and would always mock—could be immensely valuable and ennobling. That dreams did not have to be approved by others to make a man's life worth living. To make a man a hero.

Pixar and Cervantes aren't (to me, at any rate) the most obvious of bedfellows. And animated film is a medium which has been around for so few years, comparatively speaking. So it was odd to me that Pixar could pick up Quixote's (much-abused) banner so skillfully. Could illuminate the Quest in ways that even the Don himself could not.

UP is visually stunning—one expects nothing less of Pixar. Ed Asner's voice emerges out of a square, set face that somehow manages to capture the essence of the word 'curmudgeon' without once seeming bad-tempered or ill-natured. Russell the Wilderness Explorer is inept and bumbling and inoffensive while simultaneously giving the impression of unfaltering determination and courage. Kevin the (giant, chocolate-loving, exotic) bird is an unbelievable mixture of toucan, velociraptor, and shrill, feathery rainbow.

And it will be a very, very long time before I see something that makes me as breathless with delight and wonder as the sight of Mr. Carl Fredrickson's modest Victorian sailing joyously through the sky under thousands and thousands of translucent, jewel-colored balloons.

Carl's blunt, square face and blunt, square glasses also somehow evince a hint of pixielike mischief that he very clearly got from his indomitable wife, Ellie. The story of their long and loving marriage—one full of joy and excitement and unfailing hopes despite its griefs—is told in a spare and silent montage that ranks high as one of the most quietly effective love stories ever shown on a screen.

Ellie meets Carl when they are children—the time at which they conceive their dream of living a life of Adventure. She tells him all about Paradise Falls in South America, the object of their childhood Hero's latest Quest. Then she makes him “cross his heart” to fly them there in his plane when he grows up.

And she dies without their life-long dream coming true.

Condemned (literally) as a menace to society, and thus to “Shady Oaks Retirement Community”, Mr. Fredrickson plucks up his determination, and his house—and, unwittingly, Russell—to set out on a Quest which means nothing to anyone else: to take himself, his and Ellie's house, and memories that literally span a lifetime to Paradise Falls.

Once there, Carl does eventually become a hero; he saves Russell's adopted bird Kevin from capture by his megalomaniacal childhood hero, Mr. Muntz. But the sweetness, the heart, of the story is the fact that in seeking to remain faithful to his wife's endless delight in and quest for adventure, Carl Fredrickson almost misses the fact that he already has. Carl finds Ellie's loving encouragement towards “his own adventures” just in time to stop him from failing their lifelong dream... because until he sees her message, he doesn't truly understand what that dream was. And it is because of Ellie's urging him towards his own adventures as well as because of his own caring for Russell that Carl Fredrickson finally chases and rescues his own Sancho Panza.

Carl Fredrickson and Russell abandon their first Quest. And yet they are heroes: it is because of that abandonment that they can save Kevin. And they save each other by it as well—at Paradise Falls, and then again once they come home.

Theirs is an adventure bigger than even Ellie could have hoped for. It begins as a Quest, a search for the near-impossible across distances and barriers that are almost insurmountable. And true to the legacy of Don Quixote, Carl Fredrickson's Quest is a gesture of faith and hope in a dream that means nothing to anyone but him.

But Mr. Fredrickson is different from—better than—the traditional Hero, and in the end, even better than Don Quixote. Because Carl is truer to his hopes than the Don, who relinquished his Quest only to die brokenhearted at its loss. Who never understood that a single quest could not contain all of one's dreams and hopes.

Mr. Fredrickson, on the brink of achieving his Quest and proving true to the vow he swore to his lady fair, realizes that some Quests must be laid aside if one is to remain true to their object—and to preserve those dreams which make it worthwhile.

That Ellie was, and he and Russell are, adventurers not because their adventure has an end that must be achieved, but because they venture.

That the company of one's fellow adventurers, and the joy of the dare, are the best and truest prizes of any Quest.

That Quests change and end, but love and dreams and hope endure.

That these things are the stuff of which adventures—and adventurers—are made.


Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
-Helen Keller

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