The Art of Montage: Up
When people think of montage, they usually think of a live-action film. While many beautiful montages do occur in live-action films, animated films have had beautiful montages, as well.
Up is an animated film about an elderly gentleman and young boy who go on an adventure in a South American country by tying hundreds, if not thousands of balloons to a house and flying there.
Like any good movie, the first 10 or so minutes is exposition. We meet a little girl and a little boy, Carl and Ellie. They meet each other for the first time, and Ellie tells Carl about the mysterious Paradise Falls, where their hero, Charles Muntz, lives. The next scene sees the two at the altar getting married (obviously years later). What comes next is one of the greatest montages in the history of animated cinema.
The montage, appropriately titled “Married Life,” shows us the day-to-day life of the couple. We see Carl and Ellie fix up their childhood clubhouse and turn it into the house of their dreams, a picnic under a tree at the top of a hill, gazing at the clouds in the sky, and their jobs at the zoo, where Ellie works with the animals, and Carl sells balloons to the kids.
As the montage continues, we see the couple once again looking up the clouds. This time, however, all of the clouds look like babies to the couple. This gives them the idea that they should begin planning a family. We see that they are making a nursery, giving the impression that Ellie is pregnant. That is, until the next shot. The camera tracks laterally from left to right. We go from inside a nursery, to the hallway of a hospital or doctor’s office. We see a doctor talking to the couple, as Ellie has her head buried in her hands. It is clear that Ellie has had a miscarriage. Some even think that, on top of that, she was told it was unlikely for her to ever carry a baby to full-term.
The next few shots are highly emotional. Carl looks out the window into the backyard as Ellie sits in a chair with her eyes closed and her hair down, which is a rarity for her. Carl joins her outside and shows her the adventure scrapbook that she made when they were kids. They get the idea to save every bit of change they can until they can afford to finally go to Paradise Falls, their dream destination.
The next few shots show a more rapid passage of time. We see the couple put change into a large jar that says “Paradise Falls” on it. The jar quickly gains more and more change, until a flat tire forces the couple to break the jar and use the money. This happens two more times. Carl breaks his foot, and a tree falls through the roof of the house during a storm, forcing the couple to to use the money in the jar two more times.
We then see Ellie fix Carl’s tie before they leave for work. This happens again before cutting to a close-up of Ellie’s hands fixing Carl’s ties a few more times. During this mini-montage of tie shots, we see a wider shot of her fixing his tie. He has significantly more gray in his hair, signifying a large jump in time. After more tie shots, we see Ellie fixing a bow tie. The camera zooms out to reveal that Ellie and Carl are now elderly, but as happy as ever. We see that they continued working at the zoo for many more years and that their union has been a long, happy, beautiful one.
One day while cleaning, Carl sees a picture of Paradise Falls and decides to surprise Ellie with two plane tickets to South America. He hides them in a picnic basket. We see them hiking up the same hill to have a picnic under the same tree. Carl beats her to the top, but she falls down. The camera track laterally into Ellie’s hospital room. Carl sends a balloon into the room to her. He walks over to her bed and Ellie hands him the adventure book — signifying that she knows she’s going to die. The next shot reveals that Ellie has passed away. Carl sits alone on the stage next to her casket holding a single balloon. He gets up and turns around as the rest of the scene becomes the outside of his house. He walks inside and the montage ends.
The beauty of this montage is the vast array of emotions it conveys in four minutes without using any dialogue. In fact, the only sounds made by humans are cheering from Ellie’s side of the family at the wedding at the very beginning of the montage. The rest of the montage is entirely music. There is no dialogue, nor are there any sound effects. This montage is completely visual.
The use of repetition is also key in this montage. Several of the shots in the opening section of the montage are repeated later on for added emphasis. For example, the shot of Ellie falling as she walks up the hill is identical to an earlier shot from when the couple was younger. The main difference is that she beat Carl up the hill when they were younger, signifying the weight of her disease when Carl beats her up the hill.
Another example of repetition is the use of the lateral tracking shot. A lateral tracking shot means that the camera literally moves horizontally across the frame. It differs from a pan in that it is clear that the entire camera has moved sideways. There are two major uses of this kind of shot in the sequence. The first is when Ellie and Carl find out that she has miscarried their child. We go from excitement and happiness as they paint the nursery to immediate heartbreak as we are transported laterally to the doctor’s office. The second major use of this type of shot is when we go from Ellie’s hospital room to the church where her funeral has taken place; the same church where she and carl got married.
The use of light is particularly intriguing in this montage. Light parallels the season of Carl and Ellie’s marriage. When they were first married and throughout their younger year, the daylight is bright and vibrant, like a morning or early afternoon. As the time passes, the light grows gradually grows more and more golden, as if the day is drawing closer to dusk. In the shot where Ellie falls on the hill there is a literal sunset signifying Ellie’s life is about to come to end. The shot of Carl at the funeral features light coming through the stained-glass windows that is clearly dusk, and the final shot of Carl walking into his house is in darkness signifying the end of their marriage.
Montage is a truly beautiful thing. It’s more than just throwing a bunch of random images on the screen and setting them to music. It takes meticulous planning and execution on the part of the director, director of photography, camera operator, and editor. When done well, they are truly a sight to behold. I hope that this series of blogs has given you either a newfound or a greater love and respect for the art of montage.
Matt is a 23-year-old producer, director, and writer from DFW, Texas, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Film, TV, and Digital Media from Texas Christian University and is now an apprentice at the Center for Creative Media. His ultimate goal is to bring glory to God as a showrunner on TV. He is fueled by laughter, music, and donuts. Lots and lots of donuts.