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The Up Fan Theory That Makes Carl Even More Tragic

Carl Fredrickson, the curmudgeon with a heart of gold voiced by Ed Asner, is the grouchy center around which the Pixar film "Up" revolves. 

Depicted as mourning the death of his beloved wife Ellie, Carl has decided that he will finally embark on the trip that the two of them swore they would take together, but never did — to Paradise Falls. When an accident results in Carl being declared a threat to the public and he is ordered to leave his house to move into an old folks' home, Carl uses a large bundle of balloons and helium to turn his house into a flying dirigible.  He proceeds to pilot toward South America, planning on fulfilling Ellie's dream, anchoring the house they hand-refurbished by a cliff and living in tropical splendor. However, he doesn't expect Junior Wilderness Explorer Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) to stow away onboard the flying house, determined to earn his Assisting the Elderly badge by helping Carl out — and neither of them expects to encounter disgraced explorer Charles Muntz (voice of Christopher Plummer), who is determined to launder his own reputation by any means necessary.

"Up," much like every other Pixar movie, has been the subject to wild fan theories from a wide variety of viewers. In light of that, it's probably not surprising to learn that there is a popular fan hypothesis circulating among animation fans regarding Carl. According to this notion — which takes at least three different forms – Carl's story is even more tragic than you thought it was.

Is Carl dead?

There are at least three different popular fan theories about "Up" and Carl — and all of them revolve around Mr. Fredricksen being among the deceased.

First off, Disney Theories subreddit user u/WolfieIsCorona simply posits that Carl is already dead, and the film is about his journey to the afterlife (IE: Paradise Falls). According to WolfieIsCorona, that means Russell is Carl's guardian angel, trying to earn his way into Paradise and explaining his desire to earn his badge (IE: wings). Charles Muntz, meanwhile, has disgraced himself and fallen from heaven as a fallen angel — and is determined to drag Carl back to Hell with him (apparently there's no room for Dug in this theory).

Next is u/tilfordkage, who floats the notion that Carl died after his court appearance. In this take, Russell isn't just an angel but represents the baby Carl and Ellie couldn't have in life. They then suggest that Muntz and Dug represent different parts of Carl's personality — Dug his loyalty to Ellie and Muntz his false, evil side — the times he did her wrong. "He 'lied' to Ellie by never taking her to Paradise Falls and by (in his mind) keeping her from her potential adventures," the user explains. Kevin the Bird, meanwhile, is a representative of Ellie herself — which explains Carl's conflicted feelings about the bird.

A fun but unlikely idea

There's a third Pixar fan with a theory about Carl being dead, and that is u/lockzackary, whose concept combines elements from each previous theory and creates quite a complex web of their own from them. They cite a Wired article which says that Carl couldn't have possibly made it to South America with the number of balloons he used, which backs up their notion that the story isn't taking place in reality along with the existence of Dug's collar.

This theory includes a dead Carl and Russell as a guardian angel, and as in u/tilfordkage's theory, Russell may have taken the form of the child that Carl and Ellie couldn't have. However, u/lockzackary also includes Dug and Kevin the Bird in their idea: Kevin represents God or a higher calling, while Dug is a metaphor for the process of transitioning between life and death. In this version of the theory, Muntz gets a promotion from fallen angel to an embodiment of pure evil, with his flock of dogs transmogrified into hellhounds. Russell and Muntz are in a tug-of-war over Carl's soul, and if God (aka Kevin) is killed, then Carl goes to Hell. Carl's journey through the afterlife is ultimately rewarded by a reunion with Ellie in Paradise, represented by their house finally landing on Paradise Falls.

Interesting? For sure, but the majority of responses to these three theories have been negative. "Every movie seems to have an afterlife theory these days...," said u/Purdaddy regarding u/lockzackary's theory. u/Frapplo deconstructs u/tilfordkage's theory by pointing out that Carl eventually returns home with Russell, and wonders "were he truly dead, why didn't he get Ellie back?"

When one considers how heartbreaking "Up" is even without Carl being dead, perhaps it's best that these theories remain theories.