Everyone may have differing opinions on what the best Pixar film is but chances are that Up will be high up on most people’s lists because it’s just brilliant, especially the iconic love story opener between Carl and Ellie which arguably was what made the movie so special.
As Up turns 10 years old, those 5 or so opening minutes remain the greatest thing Pixar has ever produced (and probably will ever produce). But that moment of magic almost didn’t pan out the way it did.
Rather than the soul-crushing hammer blow to the feels that the scene ultimately turned out to be, it was originally less emotional and leaned more into Looney Tunes slapstick territory.
According to a behind-the-scenes video of Up on Pixar’s website, the filmmakers revealed that the original concept involved a young Carl trying to catch a bird with a crude box trap, only for a young Ellie to come out of nowhere with a massive right hook to Carl’s arm and declaring that, “Birds are nice! Boys are dumb!”
This ultimately starts a life-long game where the couple sneak punch each other in the most random ways, which was intended to be a “non-sappy” and “funny” way of developing their relationship. This extends right up to the point where Carl is visiting Ellie in hospital and she weakly punches his arm (out of love).
In the words of co-director Bob Peterson, Carl and Ellie “punch themselves old” as opposed to “sweetly become old.”
(The explanation and storyboards come in at the start of the clip.)
While the filmmakers thought the scene was hilarious yet heartfelt, test audiences didn’t exactly warm to Carl and Ellie’s little punching game and reacted to the sequence with “silence” rather than tears.
Since Up hinges on the Carl and Ellie montage working, the filmmakers knew they had to fix it and ultimately ended up with the tearjerking scene we all know and love.
I do see where the filmmakers were coming from in regards to the original concept for Carl and Ellie’s growing old montage but it was one of those things that looked good on paper but just didn’t work when executed.
But hey, victories are born out of failures and we got the perfect montage in the end. 10 years on, I still can’t watch the scene and not tear up, and I know I’m far from the only one.