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Up (Pixar) Aging Themes

Updated on September 26, 2012

Quick Summary:

The movie Up is about a 78-year old widower, Carl Fredricksen who decided to undertake an adventure that he and has now deceased wife, have dreamed about since they were young instead of being forced into a retirement home. Up discreetly explores themes of gerontology and though the themes are subtle, they are nevertheless important in broadening our knowledge of aging peoples.


Earlier in the movie the viewers are shown scenes of Carl and his deceased wife Ellie’s relationship. There is a part in this scene where the viewers are shown Ellie and Carl painting their mailbox together. The movie fast-forwards to Carl in his late life. The scene I am focusing on, is based upon the very mailbox the couple painted lovingly together. After a bulldozer hits Carl’s mailbox, he strikes a man who was directing the bulldozer and touching his special mailbox with his walking cane.

Carl is summoned to a courthouse. The court decides that Carl is a “public menace” and must be placed into a retirement home.

Themes in Aging:

The viewers weren’t shown exactly what was said in the courthouse, but it can be assumed that the judge did not feel Carl was justified in hitting the man. If perhaps, the judge knew or was more sentimental towards Carl’s reasoning, then maybe the situation would be different. It was like he wasn’t given a chance to defend himself- perhaps because he was seen as defenseless, cognitively.


This scene illustrates the opinions society has towards aging people. Mistakenly, society places this idea into the heads of many that old people are easily dispensable- that we can just throw them away, treating them as if they are sub-human. Carl is seen as a nuisance, and an issue, instead of as a human who makes mistakes and has feelings. America has this “throw away” idea that if there is a “problem”, it can go around the real issue and just do what they think is an easy fix. For instance, forcing Carl into a retirement home instead of investigating why Carl behaved like that and perhaps a different, more appropriate consequence.

It’s stereotyped that old people are a problem to society, and do more hindering than good. It’s unfortunate that people oversimplify what is really happening in regards to aging people, rather than investigating why these stereotypes towards old people exist.


Wider Implications:

Not just Carl, but many aging people are being forced into retirement homes, or are being persuaded to go into a retirement community by family members and society. This attitude is actually teaching old people to be less independent, reinforcing the stereotype.It’s a false idea that old people can’t be independent- they do not need their hand held constantly just because they are physically frail.

Carl is the epitome against the stereotype towards aging people. Though, Carl’s physical shape is not at his highest point, it says nothing about his cognitive and emotional states. He is perfectly capable to live on his own, and not be forced into a retirement home. I think this is the case for many old people.

Although there are some that need extra help, and would be better off in a retirement home, it is important to realize that not every 80-year old fits this mold we have created. One 80-year old does not represent ALL 80-year olds. We are all unique.


Stereotypes in Aging:

It’s much easier for society to classify us into groups- that is how our brain organizes information.

Even though when people take a look at real information, situations and ideas- if it doesn’t fit the mold we have created (which much of the time it doesn’t), we ignore it. This is dangerous in trying to better our society and accommodate an aging lifestyle. We treat the elderly as if they’re diseased. For this scene with Carl, I think his feelings and thoughts were ignored because he is old.

People think that elders have diminishing intelligence and cognitive abilities- only being viewed as grouchy and forgetful. It’s important to realize that an elder can be just as capable of thinking as someone in their twenties or thirties or forties.


Aging is a process that nearly every human being has to go through. Life is not all downhill once you’re an elder. Like Carl- you probably will still be as cognitively aware as ever. It’s unfortunate that this discrimination towards elders, leads to unfair treatment (being forced into a retirement community) all due to ignorance. If more movies like Up were produced, shining a positive and more accurate light on the aging process, society as a whole could shift the negative paradigm on aging.

The problem is there isn’t enough awareness on discrimination towards elders. Perhaps it seems unreal that elders are honestly treated like they’re sub-human. Like Carl Fredricksen, elders can have feelings and aren’t irrational.

Carl was viewed as dangerous perhaps because his community saw his actions as irrational, even if in reality his is harmless. Instead of investigating the issue with Carl, society shrugged him aside, and wrongly categorized him as incapable of having control over his thoughts and actions, harmful and a burden on society.

If movies like Up can help to collectively broaden America’s knowledge, we can take steps to help eliminate the negative stereotypes and connotations that come with aging.


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