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Biggest Unanswered Questions From Pixar's Up

"Up" is one of Pixar's best movies. Carl Fredericksen, a curmudgeon sunk deep in mourning for his late wife, decides to escape urban development by flying his house to South America. He does this by attaching thousands of balloons to the building, which carry him into the sky. Unfortunately, he has a stowaway. Russell, an excitable kid hungry for merit badges, is along for the ride — and what a ride it turns out to be. Though he's an old man who thinks his best days are behind him, Carl's journey is only just beginning.

"Up" boasts an incredible script, gorgeous visuals, and excellent acting. The fact that it manages to be a jaunty adventure and contain some of the most heartbreaking moments in Pixar history is a testament to its greatness. Yet it leaves a number of burning questions unanswered. Some are left open-ended for intentional effect. Others simply don't pertain to the main plot, and are left unexplained as a result. A few seem like genuine oversights, leaving viewers to wonder if they've missed something. Whatever the reason, these are the biggest questions Pixar's "Up" leaves answered.

Did Charles Muntz kill the original Kevin?

"Up" opens with a flashback of young Carl Fredricksen watching a newsreel about explorer Charles Muntz. Having just returned from a fantastic voyage to Paradise Falls, Muntz shows off a skeleton of a newly discovered species of bird native to that South American locale. Convinced Muntz has manufactured the skeleton and didn't actually discover a new animal, the world of professional explorers discredits him. Muntz vows to prove he's telling the truth by bringing back a live specimen. The audience later comes to know Kevin, a bird belonging to the same species.

A question emerges from these circumstances: How did Muntz find the first bird? Was it already a skeleton, or did he kill it? His promise to capture another animal of the same species implies he's seen these birds alive and well — otherwise, he might assume they're extinct, like the dinosaurs whose bones we dig up. But his bird hunt lasts decades. This makes it seem likely he vowed to bring back a live bird without ever having seen one, which means Muntz assumed the birds are alive and well with no evidence. Muntz is certainly capable of wrongdoing — in fact, he's killed every person who's followed him to Paradise Falls for fear of them finding the bird before he does. He's certainly capable of indulging in bad scientific practices. But the answer to this question remains unclear.

How does Carl prep his house for its big flight?

Carl remains in his home as a sea of high-rises and active construction sites engulf it. When it becomes too much, he decides to ditch it all and go to Paradise Falls, a place he and his late wife Ellie dreamed of visiting — and he's taking his house with him. Carl proceeds to attach an inordinate amount of balloons to his home. When they rise, they take the whole building with them: The house easily detaches from its foundation and stays remarkably intact as it gains altitude. 

Naturally, this inspires a lot of questions. Chief among them: How is Carl — an elderly man long past his physical prime — able to pull this off? On the morning of Carl's flight, we glimpse empty containers of helium littering his yard. He previously worked as a balloon vendor at the local zoo, so it's safe to assume that's where the containers and balloons are from. But could one small zoo really supply him with that many balloons and the gas to fill them? Moreover, did the zoo just let him have these things for free, or was robbery involved? Once Carl had the materials, how long did it take him — again, a fairly frail old man — to pump air into every balloon, attach strings, and tie them to the house? We're led to believe he did this in a single night. Maybe Carl is secretly Santa Claus? 

What is Carl's long-term plan?

When a policewoman drops Carl off at home after his day in court, she remarks, "Sorry, Mr. Fredricksen. You don't seem like a public menace to me." Employees from Shady Oaks Retirement Village will arrive in the morning to pick him up, implying the court's verdict forces Carl to give up his property and move there. But when the staff members arrive the next day, Carl's house takes flight before their bamboozled eyes.

Time was clearly of the essence in this situation: We imagine Carl worked through the night to pull this off. Beyond that, he's so overwhelmed with grief for Ellie that he doesn't seem capable of thinking about anything except going to Paradise Falls. Though this tunnel vision is effective, it leaves a lot of questions behind. Sure, Carl has clearly thought of how to kick off this bold endeavor, but has he thought through any follow-up details? Assuming he gets to Paradise Falls safely, how is his life there going to be sustainable? Where will he get his food? Does he realize his chances of getting electricity are next to zero? What's he going to do for drinking water?

The events that unfold involving Russell, Dug, Kevin, and Muntz prevent Carl from seriously considering these questions. But they would have been very important if everything had gone according to his plan, and we have no idea if he gave them any thought.

How does Russell stay onboard?

Russell is a Wilderness Explorer who only needs his "assisting the elderly" badge to become a senior scout. He offers to help Carl with any odd jobs he might need taken care of, but Carl brushes him off by making up a story plenty of adults will recognize: He claims a "snipe" is getting into his flowers. Russell takes this completely seriously. His subsequent hunt traps him underneath Carl's porch when the house takes off.

The audience learns about Russell's location after the fact. We don't see him when the building ascends, even though the camera clearly captures the bottom of the house. Russell reveals he's onboard when he frantically knocks on the front door, by which point the house is well into the sky.

If you were underneath a house's porch and the house started to lift into the air, what would you do? Probably gawk in disbelief and look to the sky as it rises above you, right? Well, apparently that's not Russell's way of doing things. If his tale is to be believed, he clung to the house for dear life and eventually climbed onto the porch — without falling off or being seen. This raises some major questions. How did he do this while remaining invisible? Why was going along for the ride his gut reaction? And how the heck did he have the physical prowess to pull such a feat off?

How long does it take to fly to Paradise Falls?

"Up" never specifies where Carl lives before he flies to Paradise Falls, but it's somewhere within the United States. Paradise Falls is a fictional destination somewhere in South America. As remarkable as Carl's balloon-powered makeshift house-plane is, it surely can't travel very fast. But while the full duration of the flight is unclear, it seems to be remarkably short. 

Soon after the house takes flight, Carl and Russell encounter a gnarly storm. In the middle of the ensuing chaos, Carl loses control of the house's navigational instruments and falls over. When he wakes up, it's sunny outside, and Russell says he's led the house to safety. "After you tied your stuff down, you took a nap," Russell innocently explains. "So I went ahead and steered us down here." Carl is incredulous, but soon discovers they've actually made it to Paradise Falls.

We can infer that Carl was knocked out for a lengthy period of time. He must have been exhausted from prepping his house with all those balloons — it's not beyond the realm of possibility that his body took being knocked out as an excuse to get a full night's sleep. But unless Carl lives in Miami — which seems unlikely, given the lack of palm trees — this means Russell was on his own for a while. How long, exactly? We don't know.

Do Carl and Russell have super strength?

Once Carl and Russell touch down in South America, they face good news and bad news. The good news: Against all odds, they've flown an entire house to another continent and landed it almost exactly where they wanted to go. The bad news: They touch down on the wrong side of Paradise Falls, and since the house's balloons are losing helium, they can't use it as a makeshift plane anymore. This means they'll have to walk to the other side of the Falls on foot, and somehow get Carl's house there, too.

While the balloons can't take the house to great heights anymore, they still keep it elevated. After noticing that he and Carl weigh it down, Russell suggests they strap the floating house to their backs with ropes and a garden hose and walk it to their final destination, kind of like a parade balloon. It's some seriously creative problem-solving on Russell's part — if this whole Wilderness Explorers thing doesn't work out, he could have a bright future in engineering. But this surely must take a major toll on their backs. Russell is a kid, Carl is well into retirement age, and the house isn't exactly lightweight. Do they secretly have super strength? Are they working off sheer adrenaline? Hopefully they're able to see a chiropractor when they return home.

How are the dogs' skills possible?

Explorer Charles Muntz leaves the United States to prove the existence of a bird he claims to have discovered in South America. When Carl arrives in Paradise Falls decades later, he realizes Muntz has been there the whole time, still searching for the bird. He's also the only human in the area, and has a staff of dogs who take care of him.

The dogs' skills are remarkable. They cook meals as well as any human. They fly planes, amply displaying navigational and combat abilities. They have special collars that verbalize their thoughts into English, allowing them to communicate freely with Muntz. This is all very cool ... and totally unexplained.

Any one of these skills demands a complete backstory, given the incredible advancement of technology and zoology they imply. Beyond this, another question lurks: How does Muntz maintain his fleet of genius dogs? Is he just a very careful breeder? If not, where does he get these pooches from? How does he train them?  How does he keep them healthy without a vet? Where does he get the materials to create and sustain the dog collars? Did he seriously pack an adorable, dog-sized chef's hat with him when he left for South America? So many questions, so few answers. 

How old is Charles Muntz?

Carl Fredricksen is old, but how old is he exactly? The first scene of the movie depicts him as a child, watching newsreels about Charles Muntz. The time period isn't explicitly clear, but the Model T emergency vehicle that comes to his rescue is a big hint. Since Ford discontinued the Model T in 1927 and newsreels added sound in 1927, this places Carl's childhood in the late '20s and early '30s. We can then postulate that Carl was born in the late '10s or early '20s. 

As Muntz is an adult in these newsreels, he must be at least one generation older than Carl. This means Muntz was born no later than around 1900. Pixar released "Up" in 2009, and the majority of the film seems to take place in present day. If this is true, then Carl is pushing 90, and Muntz is close to 110 — at the youngest. Are we sure the water in Paradise Falls isn't actually a fountain of youth? Either something magical is afoot, Muntz has incredibly good genes, or the film takes place earlier than 2009. But even shaving a few years off can't make Muntz's longevity anything less than astonishing.

Is Russell's badge ceremony the first thing they do once they get back?

Carl's vision of a non-traditional retirement within the wonders of nature turns into a fight for his life against his childhood hero. To make matters worse, he has to protect Russell throughout all of this and hopefully manage to keep the dogs safe too. And then he's got to make it back home, which happens to be a continent away.

After all of that, you'd think the first place Carl And Russell would go when they return to the United States would be a hospital. Even if Carl refused, being a cantankerous old man, it feels safe to assume Russell's family would whisk him away for a thorough check-up. But Carl and Russell's very first stop seems to be Russell's Wilderness Explorers ceremony, where he earns his final badge. The two of them are still visibly dirty and disheveled, and appear to still be wearing the clothes they battled Muntz in. This ceremony is such a high priority for them both, they couldn't even pause to change. That's sweet — and really, really weird.

Is Russell reported as a missing child?

When Carl and Russell attend Russell's Wilderness Explorers ceremony, an unnamed woman in the audience cheers them on. This implies an authority figure in Russell's life is aware he's safe and is okay with Carl being there. But how did this woman, and any other adults in Russell's life, handle his disappearance? Was there any sort of kerfuffle? Russell is a child, after all, who was probably meant to be home for dinner when he was aboard Carl's house. How hard was this woman freaking out just 24 hours prior?

We know Russell's involvement in Carl's flight is the result of a misunderstanding, and that Carl isn't a threat. On paper, though, the situation looks pretty bad: An old man who just lost a court case regarding a head injury he gave someone takes a little boy to South America without any communication with the kid's family. Do people search for Russell back home as he and Carl explore Paradise Falls? Are the police notified? Is his family worried sick? What kind of conversation goes down when Russell returns? Does the family believe Carl's outlandish explanations of where they went and what happened to them? If Russell's family is upset, they don't seem to blame Carl: The end credits imply he continues to be an active part of Russell's life. But we have to imagine getting to this point isn't easy.

Who is the woman at Russell's ceremony?

Russell's family structure is largely unclear. The eager kid tells Carl that his dad is great at camping and outdoorsy activities, which might be why Russell is so passionate about being a Wilderness Explorer. But he and his dad haven't ever done these activities together. Russell also mentions his mom: When Carl suggests they see who can be quiet for the longest amount of time, Russell says his mom loves that game. Later, Russell references someone named Phyllis. Carl, incredulous, asks if Russell seriously calls his mother by her first name, but Russell says Phyllis is not his mom. Carl leaves it at that and changes the subject.

At the end of the film, during the Wilderness Explorers' badge ceremony, dads stand proudly behind their kids. Russell's dad isn't there, so Carl attends instead. From the audience, a woman cheers Russell on. She doesn't have any dialogue, and Russell never identities her. Is this Russell's mom? Is this Phyllis? Who is Phyllis, exactly? It seems likely that Russell's parents are divorced, and that Phyllis is his step-mother, but she could be a beloved teacher, a babysitter, or a family friend. We don't know for sure — but it is nice to know someone's on Russell's side.

Does the world ever learn the truth about Charles Muntz?

Charles Muntz begins the movie as a heroic explorer, but he's soon accused of fraud. Determined to clear his name, he sets out on a voyage to Paradise Falls, but never returns. The world assumes he didn't survive his mission, but decades later, Carl Fredricksen stumbles upon Muntz, camped out in a blimp. This discovery gains a dark side when Carl realizes Muntz has killed every explorer who's crossed his path — and he's next. As Muntz attempts to murder our hero, he falls to his death.

Does Carl ever reveal what really happened to Muntz? As he returns home in Muntz's famous blimp, questions about the missing explorer must be raised. Given the outrageous circumstances, Carl might face a hurdle in convincing others of the story's veracity. It doesn't help that he was recently in court. But the public might still remember Muntz's reputation as a liar and a cheat, which could make the truth a little easier to swallow. Believing a famed liar is also a crazed murderer is easier than believing the same thing of a legendary hero. No matter how things shake up, we can assume a hefty documentary series or two ends up exploring Muntz's bizarre life.

What happens to all the dogs?

Muntz has a lot of dogs taking care of him and keeping his blimp in top condition. Carl brings all these pooches stateside when he pilots the blimp back home. What happens to them after this point? Photographs seen during the end credits show Muntz's many dogs hanging out with Carl and the gang, but it's unclear who actually owns them. It could be Carl, Russell, or the nursing home residents they're seen visiting in one snapshot. Dug is certainly Carl's pet, though, and one photo implies he starts a very large family. Do all these puppies become Carl's responsibility?

There's never been a sequel to "Up," but 2021's "Dug Days," an animated series exclusive to Disney+, is basically the next best thing. Here, we learn that Carl has said goodbye to the blimp, and he and Dug have settled into a comfy suburban home. Muntz's dogs aren't in the series, nor is Dug's love interest or their many puppies. Perhaps this series takes place before those photos are taken?