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Up – Condemned without trial

January 13, 2010 5 comments

Up is the latest release from acclaimed Pixar Animation Studios. In many ways it is one of Pixar’s most unique films, being quite different from most of their other movies. One such way is that it’s the first to feature an absent father as a plot element. That also makes it the first to unfairly portray an absent father.

Up is about the adventures of the aged man Carl and the young boy Russell.  Just as any boy would, Russell loves his father and longs for time with him and approval from him. That is a good message, but where Pixar goes wrong is in their portrayal of the father himself.

Or rather, the non-portrayal.

What is unfair about Up is that this absent father is truly and absolutely absent. He never makes an appearance, not in dream, photo, flash-back or heartwarming closing montage. He never even gets named.

All we know from Russell is that his father is busy and misses out on doing things with Russell. We are never told why the father is not there, only that he isn’t.

Now, the feelings of children are important. If they feel neglected, their parents should try to be there for them more, but we also know that children do not always understand the world. Many absent parents are such because of conditions outside their control. The most common is obviously work. Many men, and also many women, work long and hard, far from home, all to provide a good life for their family. This can leave children feeling unloved, but wouldn’t it be unfair to dump shame and blame on this hard working parent?

Only if it’s a mother.

Just as in Up, the media tends to show hard-working fathers as nothing but absent bums, never there and never useful when they are there.

However, many movies conclude this problem by showing the parent reducing their long hours so they can spend more time with their family (see my post on Hook for how that can turn out).

Not Up, I’m afraid. The movie ends with Russell’s dad once more absent, so Carl takes his place, to the approval of Russell and his mom. Carl steps in as Russell’s father figure, but without any information about the real father having ever been shared.

Apparently being absent is totally unacceptable for a parent (or at least a father), no matter the reason for the absence.

I guess that’s reasonable. After all, some offenses are always wrong and deserve punishment/imprisonment…like assault with a deadly weapon, right?

But with all that in mind, what message does Up leave us with?

If dad ain’t there, get a new one.

The strange thing is that Russell’s dad got about the same treatment as a deceased father would (missed > replaced > forgotten).

What does that say about our media’s opinion of working dads?

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