“Earth” & “Up”
 
            Two polar bear cubs get the first look at the “outside” world of snow and ice, somewhere in Antarctica .  Migrating cranes labor to fly over the Himalayas , and migrating whales are stalked by a great white shark.  The walrus clan circles up to protect their young ones from the predators, as do the elephants.  But sometimes the hunters are successful, because that is the way of the wild.  “Earth” is like a big National Geographic special on the silver screen.  The panorama can only fully be appreciated in a theater, so don’t wait to see this one on DVD.  Take your little children, take your grandmother, take anyone with an appreciation for watching God’s own creations in their natural habitats, with not a human in sight.
            There’s not a human in sight in “Up,” either, because it’s all animated, but this is also one of those good-for-the-whole-family kind of films that is best enjoyed on the big screen with the 3-D glasses.  It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s charming, but it keeps from being syrupy because the old man gets to be crotchety, and, of course, we have a dastardly villain to overcome.  Ed Asner is the voice of Carl Fredricksen, a lonely old man who still misses his beloved Ellie.  They met as kids, because she invited him to be a member of her adventure club, and they enjoyed each other immediately.  They dreamed of exploring faraway lands, especially Paradise Falls , in South America , featured in popular newsreels, but life intervened.  They couldn’t have children, much to their sorrow, but they bought a house together, and lived in it happily until she died.  There’s a certain sadness about him now, as he dodders into old age alone and lonely, uncertain what to do about it.  The urban construction is all around him, and he holds out stubbornly, in part because the house is a shrine to Ellie, and all their happy years together.  He still talks to her as if she’s there.  A little boy named Russell (the voice of Jordan Nagai) knocks at the door in his explorer outfit, wanting to earn his “help the elderly” merit badge, and grumpy old Carl will have none of it.  He doesn’t need help, he just wants to be left alone.  Or so he thinks.
            The whimsical part of the story is that Carl strings together a bunch of balloons so he can float away while still in his house, and go have that adventure he’s always wanted.  What he didn’t realize, until he was already under way, was that he had a stowaway---Russell, who proceeds to lose his GPS tracking device.  Then the storm comes upon them, and they are blown off course, and land in a wilderness which closely resembles the Paradise Falls of Carl’s dreams.  But it’s not as idyllic as it appears.  There’s danger there, and adventure enough for everyone, but, of course, the real point is not the journey at all, but the relationship between the grumpy old man and the frightened little boy, who find, in each other, the trust and affection they both need.  But it’s not as hackneyed as all that, there’s a lot of whimsy and grace and humor in this film, and the viewer winds up identifying with animated characters as if they were something more than human. 
            In both films, the wilderness is neither as safe nor as pristine as we usually assume it to be.  In both movies, it’s about the old of the species nurturing and protecting the young, and the young growing up.  In both films, it’s the way of the world for the world to move on.  But it’s a wonderful world, just the same.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      Do you think that in “nature films,” young viewers should still see the hunter chasing---and catching---its prey?
2)      Do you think that in animated films, young viewers should still see the presence of evil, thwarting the intentions of the good people?
3)      When have you developed an unlikely cross-generation relationship?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas