Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Pixar’s Up

My latest book, Reel Leadership, is now available on Amazon. If you love movies and leadership, you will love this book.

The 2009 film Up is a Disney Pixar feature-length animated movie that will warm the hearts of even the most curmudgeon. Up tells the story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen (Edward ‘Ed’ Asner) and his grief over losing the love of his life, Ellie (whose name is based on the film’s director Pete Docter’s daughter, Elie Docter). They had big dreams to travel the world, live at Paradise Falls, and have the greatest adventures of all time.

Sadly, things got in the way of their adventures. One thing after the other caused them to break into their travel fund and put that dream on hold. Ellie eventually passes away, and Carl becomes a grumpy old man.

An old man, young boy, dog are holding onto a rope connected to a floating house. The house is floating because of balloons and there's a colorful bird sitting on the house

After an altercation with a construction worker, Carl is ordered to go live at Shady Oaks Retirement Home. He didn’t want to do this, as it would mean leaving the home he and Ellie had created for themselves. To avoid this, Carl attaches helium-filled balloons to his house, which lifts the house off its foundation and floats toward Paradise Falls. There’s only one hitch… a young nine-year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) had been sent on a Snipe hunting mission by Carl. Russell thought he’d followed it to Carl’s front door just as the house lifted off. 

Carl has to care for a young child on his journey to fulfill the adventure he and Ellie never got to.

Carl and Russell’s story will warm your heart. You’ll see a beaten-down, unhappy man find something to live for as he learns to care for Russell. More than warming your heart, Up will inspire you to become a better leader through the leadership lessons in the movie.

Are you ready for Reel Leadership?

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Up

1. We all emulate someone:

Up opens with a scene from a fictional story called Spotlight Of Adventure. This serial film was something young Carl enjoyed. 

Spotlight On Adventure centered on explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). He would travel around the world, find exotic creatures, and tell his stories.

At the end of the serial, young Carl sees Muntz pulling down his navigator goggles. Carl does the same.

He longs to be like Muntz.

It’s okay to want to emulate other leaders. Find someone who inspires you to be better, do more, and go farther than you ever dreamed possible.

The person could be an author, pastor, or another business leader. Find someone worth emulating and follow them (we discover Muntz ain’t all he’s cracked up to be, so that’s another reminder to watch out for who we let inspire us).

2. Ellie:

You and me. We’re in a club now.

Carl is on his way home, holding a balloon in his hand. He’s scribbled Spirit Of Adventure on the balloon in reference to Muntz’s blimp. 

He stumbles upon young Ellie in a house. She’s a sweet, goofy child who loves people.

What does Ellie do? She invites Carl to join her club. In fact, she doesn’t give him a choice. She tells them they’re in a club now.

Ellie exemplified the leadership trait of inviting people into something bigger than their current story. She was willing to ask and allow Carl to join something she created and led.

Who do you need to invite into your organization? What could it make possible?

As Up went on, we saw that Ellie inviting Carl into a club created a lifetime of memories. Inviting others will do the same for you.

3. Create a vision board but allow it to change:

Ellie wanted to show Carl something she’d never shown anyone before. Ellie had a book titled My Adventure Book.

This book contained all the things that Ellie wanted to do. Travel, relationships, adventure!

Her future was plotted out within the pages of the book. Yet, she didn’t get to do even half of the things she planned for in the book.

Over time, her idea of adventure changed. It involved her life with Carl and the joy they brought each other.

I see Ellie’s My Adventure Book as a leader’s Vision Board. A vision board is a collage of images, pictures, and words that inspire you. They help remind you of where you want to go and who you want to become.

Every leader should have something like this. It’s a visual reminder of what you want in your life. But you also need to hold the vision board loosely in your hands.

God may have other plans for your life. He can change the direction you need to go.

Be willing to dream big, but also be willing to let it change.

4. Fix mistakes:

Carl and Ellie grow up. They get married. They move into their first home, a real fixer-upper. 

The pair are painting their mailbox when Carl makes a mistake. He puts his hand, which is covered in paint, on the mailbox, leaving his handprint. 

Uh oh! Their hard work is ruined, right?

No, not at all!

Ellie sees what happens. She places her hand on the box as well. This fixes Carl’s mistake by making it look like the two handprints were supposed to be there all along.

Do you freak out when someone makes a mistake? Do you treat them like they’re an idiot? That’s not what a leader does.

A leader sees a mistake as an opportunity to create something new. Maybe even something better.

A mistake is just a chance to make things better. Don’t blow up, get upset, or treat people poorly because of a bad decision. Instead, work together to create a better solution than what would have been.

5. Leaders are persistent:

Russell shows up at Carl’s house one day looking to get his Wilderness Explorer badge for helping an elderly person (think of a Boy Scout badge). He sees Carl as the perfect person to help.

Carl answers his door and Russell breaks into his perfectly planned speech. He tells Carl he’s a Wilderness Explorer looking to help an elderly person do something. He rattles off task after task. Carl tells him no. This doesn’t stop Russell. He keeps going. He gets no after no after no.

Eventually, Carl breaks down and gives him the impossible task of finding a Snipe. Russell got his task through his persistence.

Leaders must be persistent. You have to continue to go after what the organization needs. You must be willing to follow up to ensure things are being done. You have to keep knocking on those doors.

Be persistent. Be so persistent people can’t say no.

6. Look for different solutions:

After Carl lifts his house with balloons, Russell is on his doorstep. There’s nothing Carl can do but invite the young boy into the floating house.

They navigate through storms, and eventually, Russell gets them near Paradise Falls. The pair get out of the house and struggle to get back into it.

This is where Russell sees a new solution brewing. Carl believes they have to get back in the house to float to a great spot on Paradise Falls. Russell tells them they don’t have to do that. They can walk the house over to its final spot as they’re attached via cables.

We get so focused on the plan that we want to stick to it. It’s our plan, after all. 

But there are so many different ways of doing things, so many different solutions. Look for different ways of doing things when you hit a roadblock. You may find a more straightforward solution than you had planned.

7. Great teams expand:

Carl and Russell were an odd pair but they grew to care for one another. While on the way to Paradise Falls, their team grows.

They first meet Kevin, a beautiful but strange bird. Russell wants to keep him. Carl doesn’t. Still, Kevin joins. 

Then there’s Dug the Dog (Bob Peterson). He was part of a pack of dogs sent to hunt down Kevin. Among Dug’s original pack were:

  • Beta (Delroy Lindo)
  • Gamma (Jerome Ranft)
  • Omega (Josh Cooley)
  • Alpha

Russell and Carl find Dug, thinking he is a human because they heard him talking (Muntz had created collars for his dogs so they could speak). Upon discovering Dug was a dog, Carl didn’t want him to stick around. Once again, Russell gets Dug to stick around and become part of the family.

Sometimes, we like our small, intimate teams. They feel cozy and perfect just the way they are.

However, there’s something to be said for growing your team. 

The larger your team, the more things you can do. You will have a mix of talents that can do more with less.

Be willing to grow your team when needed.

8. Carl:

We better get moving.

Carl, Russell, Kevin, and Dug stop several times along their journey. This is okay but they also had to pay attention to their floating house. 

The balloons began to deflate. Time was of the essence. They had to get the house to their plot of land.

Let’s get going!

Resting, planning, and waiting are great things. They can help leaders get things in order.

But there’s a time when you have to get moving. You have to put plans into action.

Don’t wait too long before you take action. The longer you wait, the tougher things can be.

9. Leadership isn’t what we expect it to be:

Russell loved the idea of the wilderness. He was a Wilderness Explorer, after all! He does all the wilderness stuff.

When Russell is put into a true wilderness, he realizes the wilderness is much different than he expected. It’s so wild.

So is leadership.

Leadership is so wild. It’s a challenge. It’s a stretching opportunity.

Be prepared that leadership won’t be what you expect it to be. However, leadership can be so much more.

10. Our mentors can let us down:

Carl had loved watching Muntz on the big screen, exploring new areas. He was Carl’s big screen mentor.

However, things changed when Carl met Muntz in person. 

Muntz had become bitter over the scientific community, thinking he had faked his adventurous find. He was going to prove to them that the skeleton was real.

To do this, he would capture Kevin and bring him back. He spent years searching for the elusive bird. He only found the bird because of Carl and Russell.

Muntz’s bitterness turned him into an angry, frustrated man (even more so than Carl!). Muntz wouldn’t let anyone stand in his way.

This let Carl down. He had looked up to this man only to find out he was not what he thought he was.

Our mentors can teach us, train us, and bring us to the next level. However, they can still let us down.

It’s a fact of our humanity. We’re all flawed creations. We will mess up and do something stupid.

Be prepared but also be willing to forgive. Our mentors will let us down but we will also let others down. How we deal with this will determine where we go next.

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