The Original ‘Up’ Opening Sequence ‘Went Over Like a Lead Balloon’

Anyone who has watched Pixar’s Up remembers the opening scene. It tells the story of Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) and his deceased wife, Ellie (Elie Doctor). Tugging at the heartstrings it gives viewers Carl’s backstory before he heads to Paradise Falls — going there had been he and Ellie’s dream — with Russell (Jordan Nagai) in tow.

Ed Asner arrives at the premiere of 'Up'
Ed Asner arrives at the premiere of Up | Barry King/FilmMagic

Although originally the scene in the animated movie looked different. Initially, it had more dialogue and some physical comedy. 

‘Up’ opening scene originally had Ellie punching Carl

Up writer and director, Pete Docter, spoke in detail about the opening scene with Rotten Tomatoes. He said it originally featured Ellie punching Carl when they first met which became a running joke throughout their relationship. 

“We saw them as kids when they first saw each other. And it became kind of a battle,” he said. “In fact, Carl was, in the very first bit, trying to catch a bird and Ellie came to the bird’s defense and punched him. So now Carl was out for revenge.” 

“It became a back-and-forth of punching contests in the most unlikely places; in the middle of a Christmas pageant or taking the trash out,” he added. “These very innocent scenes – the characters would surprise each other and punch each other.” 

Fans of Up won’t remember this from the movie because it didn’t make it to the final cut. Like with many other movies, Up evolved from the first draft to the final draft before going to the big screen.  

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It fell flat with audiences at a Pixar screening

Following a lackluster response from viewers during a screening at Pixar Docter overhauled the opening scene. 

“We thought it was hilarious, but [then] we showed it to the audience – we do a screening here at Pixar as we’re making the films, we screen them about every three months – and it just kind of went over like a lead balloon,” he said. “Nobody really laughed. So we thought, ‘Well, this has to be shorter anyway because it’s taking too long to get to the main action of our film.’”

Ultimately, Carl and Ellie’s story came in at just under five minutes. 

“It’s really not too long but it also becomes the emotional bedrock on which the rest of the film relies to move forward,” Docter said. 

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‘Up’ opening scene originally had dialogue

One of the most striking points about the first moments in Up is that there are hardly any speaking parts. But when the scene was in the early stages it had a script. 

“We wrote multiple short little scenes where they were finishing each other’s sentences and discussing stuff,” Docter said. “Then as we started to storyboard it, Ronnie del Carmen, who was our head of story, came to me and said, ‘I think this would work better with no dialogue.’”

Docter didn’t like the idea and moved forward with the scene until del Carmen convinced him to ditch the dialogue. Ultimately, they ditched the sound effects, lines, and only kept the music. It’s now one of the most memorable moments of the entire movie. 

Up became a sensation when it hit theaters in May 2009. Widely considered to be one of Pixar’s most successful films, Up won two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes.

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