What’s Up? Doc! Or, why Pixar’s UP is a Doctor Who adventure

Pixar’s 2008 near-masterpiece Up can be viewed as a sweet coming-of-old-age story that exists in a sort of magical realist world carved with a good degree more attention to detail than you might expect from either magical realism or computer-animated blockbusters. There’s something unavoidably realist about the first bit of the movie, with its heartbreaking, now-famous “Married Life” sequence, probably the greatest few minutes Pixar has ever put together. So that’s what makes the second half, with its talking fighter-pilot dogs and elderly men (who earlier in the film, couldn’t get by without walkers) dueling on top of an aloft zeppelin, so jarring.

The internets have given us a few “sneezing trees” explanations. Maybe the bad guy, Charles Muntz built his secret South American headquarters on top of a fountain of youth, some geeks have speculated. That would explain why he looks younger than protagonist Carl Fredrickson – and why Carl starts gaining shocking agility once he shows up. The fact is, Pixar knew that its mostly young audience can’t and won’t complain about realism in a film where balloons lifting a house off its foundations and halfway across the world is the basic plot device. But as a semi-professional plot rationalizer, I’d like to offer my own alternative reading. One that resolves all Up‘s flights of fantasy.

It’s a Doctor Who story.

Yep. Carl Fredrickson is a Time Lord.

First off, and most obviously, the clothing is a dead giveaway.

Carl Fredrickson.

I use a walker now. Walkers are cool.

That’s the eleventh doctor. There’s no denying it. Those are his clothes. That’s the Doctor wearing big thick glasses, yes, but Superman wears big thick glasses when he’s pretending to be human, too.

So why doesn’t he know he’s the Doctor? I’m assuming you’ve seen Human Nature / The Family of Blood, where David Tennant’s Doctor had to go incognito, even forgetting he himself was a human. Somewhere, hidden among the many, many knick-knacks of Carl’s house, I’m willing to bet there’s a fob watch. It doesn’t even have to be a watch, according to Doctor Who canon. Who knows – maybe it’s that bottle cap he’s been wearing “all this time?”

In my reading, Eleven has been forced to hide his own identity with a lifetime of implanted memories. Everything up until Carl hits his alarm clock in the morning – that beautiful, dreamlike 11-minute “prologue” of childhood, growing up and growing old – was produced to convince him he was really human.

And a flying house? Don’t we know that a TARDIS can be masked with a chameleon circuit? And haven’t we seen one just recently masked as a house? (In last season’s The Lodger.) Carl’s house sure seems to get from his nondescript American city to South America really quickly – after going through that mysterious “storm.” Could a house towed by balloons do that – or could a TARDIS?

As you reread Up as a Doctor Who story, all the inconsistencies start to fall away. It all seems to make sense a little more. For instance, the talking, semi-robotic dogs. Where have we seen that before?



So why was he forced to hide his own identity (and the identity of his vessel) from himself? Well, he’s going up against a clever, suave, charismatic villain who has a “flying machine” of his own. Are there any famous clever, suave, charismatic villains in Doctor Who?

The Master.

Although I'm glad that UP didn't have any foe yay moments between Carl Fredrickson and Charles Muntz.

The Doctor had to confront the Master, but he had to do it while hiding his own identity. So he arranged with a co-conspirator (possibly the eleventh doctor’s favorite co-conspirator, River Song, posing as Ellie in his memories), to find some way to encourage him to get to South America. The solution? Carl and Ellie “had always dreamed of going there.” That gave him all the impetus he needed to fly his “house” (TARDIS) to confront his “childhood hero” and save the world from the Master’s plan.

Which, doubtless, involved that mysterious bird of paradise, “Kevin.”

The whole thing was arranged ahead of time. The whole reason the Doctor and his companion, Russell, had to travel to South America was to capture Kevin and save him from the Master, who had been trying to find the bird for nearly a century. Wait, did I say bird?

They tell us right there in Up – there’s no record of any other bird like this. Most people don’t believe it exists. Could it be that “Kevin” isn’t a bird after all, but a stranded alien who holds the key to saving the world, or even the universe, from the Master’s evil plans?

“Now, wait a minute, Davis,” you’re saying. “You’re a complete, babbling loon. I mean, seriously, a dribbling idiot. Carl and Muntz, they’re well, old. Visibly old. Not visibly 27, which is how old our current doctor is. Granted, the Doctor is technically old, but he doesn’t look it.”

Exactly. He doesn’t look it – in live action. This is an animated movie. Where his appearance could be a little more impressionistic, and tooled toward his actual age, rather than how we perceive him.

And look – that explains that zeppelin fight! See, those aren’t elderly, frail men fighting – they’re virile, physically fit Time Lords at the peak of their powers, even if one or both of them don’t realize it. (And I’m not discounting the possibility that the Master has been fob-watched, too.)

By the way, “Charles Muntz,” eh? Hey, isn’t the Master known for using fake names with deceptive wordplay and anagrams to reveal who he really is? Okay. Well, let’s break his name down. What anagrams can we make from “Charles Muntz?”


Now, “Lunchz” isn’t very good spelling, it’s true. But the Master is known for being a pretty hungry guy, especially in “The End of Time.” And what’s the first thing Muntz did when Carl and Russell showed up at his secret lair? Fed them lunch.

But this is all just idle speculation. There’s only one person who knows if Up is really an eleventh doctor adventure, and that’s the film’s writer/director.

Pete Docter.


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