I will first introduce the two animations, then detail the similarities, and, finally, will argue that the French short animation “Above Then Beyond” (2006) and Pixar/Disney produced-animation “Up” (2009) share so many similarities, including shots which are almost identical, that one must have influenced greatly the other, and this is not a question of pure coincidence. Even given the timelines in which the two animations were produced, there is strong case to be made for the French short influencing Disney/Pixar’s final product. Going further, it also seems that, rather than being a mere inspiration, all evidence point to Pixar/Disney covertly using the main idea present in “Above Then Beyond” to fledge out the very essence of their Academy Award-winning film.
“Up” was produced by Pixar/Disney and released in 2009. It tells of an elderly widower Carl Fredricksen whose house faces the prospect of a demolition. However, Carl has other ideas. He manages to get his house airborne using helium balloons, and off he goes, with his new friend Russell, a schoolboy, to realise his and his late wife’s dream of conquering Latin America. “Up” was revered by critics and audiences alike, receiving numerous awards as a result, and was distinguished as the second animation in history to be nominated for an Academy Award in the general category of “Best Picture”.
“Above Then Beyond” is a 2006 short animation produced as part of the studies by a French student Yannick Banchereau (and his team) at the ESRA International Film School in France. In this animation, an elderly lady (seemingly also a widow) struggles with the idea that her beloved house could go through a demolition, and decides to take matters into her own hands: she manages to get her house airborne using a giant cloth and pumping air in her fireplace. With a much realistic finale than that in “Up”, “Above Then Beyond” is still an intelligent and somewhat moving short. You can see the full short here.
Here are the notable similarities between the two films:
- The two animations share very similar titles: “up” is an almost synonym of “above”, but, given the similar main premise of both animations, it is almost obvious that their titles will also be the same/very similar.
- The main characters in both films are lonely elderly people who have lost their loved ones (wife/husband respectively), and who keep the pictures of their late ones at their home, (reminding them of their loss). In “Up”, the audience sees Carl’s touching romance and then marriage to his childhood sweetheart, who sadly passed away before him, and he keeps photos and other memorabilia related to her in his house. In “Above Then Beyond”, a widow keeps a picture of (what looks like) her late (presumed dead) husband/partner in her house, and we later see it in her suitcase as she prepares for her departure.
- The houses of the main characters in both films look similar, and have somewhat similar features. They both appear to be Victorian-like, two-storey houses, and some of the films’ focus is also on the mail boxes situated outside their houses.
- The houses in both movies also appear similar on the inside. They have similar-looking rooms, up to the positioning of the furniture. For example, in both “Above Then Beyond” and in “Up”, there are two armchairs present which stand side by side, emphasising the main characters’ loneliness, but also the fact that the close emotional tie between the characters and their lost loved ones continues.
- Both films feature instances of demolition, where large-scale urban/commercial developments encroach on the area where the main characters’ houses are situated. This theme of urbanisation/commercialism encroaching on traditional/sentimental values of landowners is present in both films’ beginnings.
- In both animations, businessmen come (close) to the property of the main characters (which is the only untouched household property in the area) for some reason, and they have bad news for the main characters; the businessmen in both films want the landowners to vacate their properties (so that they can demolish them and built their skyscrapers). Both Carl in “Up” and the widow in “Above Then Beyond” are upset by the news.
- Strangely, the businessmen who come to the respective houses in both animations share similar features: though it may be expected that businessmen, who want the widow and the Carl’s properties, would wear black suits, such businessmen in both films also wear dark glasses, which make them even more impersonal.
- Both characters in their respective movies prepare old-fashioned suitcases, and, in this way, get ready for their “final” journey.
- The main characters in both films fight the demolition of their houses creatively, without anyone else knowing of their plan. In both animations, the characters resolve the problem of possible demolition of their houses by making their houses airborne. Both characters in two films are successful in their task – and their houses become airborne and fly high above the ground (to the amazement of everyone around). In “Above Then Beyond”, the widow decides to use a giant material cloth made out of her curtains as a sail, and pumps air into her fireplace to make the house airborne. In “Up”, Carl uses helium balloons to make his house airborne. However, even Carl’s balloons first emerge from a giant piece of cloth, and later Carl uses (shower) curtains to make his house sails. Moreover, similar to “Above Then Beyond”, Carl’s balloons in “Up” are tied (originate) in the fireplace, exactly the place where widow’s source of house flying originates in the French short.
- Finally, aviation is referenced throughout the two films. For example, “Above Then Beyond” starts with a small airplane taking off before commercial developments (skyscrapers) spring up. In “Up”, aviation and the handling of airplanes are also references throughout.
Moreover, there are a number of shots which are almost identical in the two films. For example:
- The shot of the commercial development site and the house in the middle, taken at some distance; in particular, there are demolition trucks at work around the house at the time.
- The facing shot of the main house, as it prepares to take off.
- The low-angle shot of the main character waving to the businessmen/collectors/agents from the house that is already airborne.
- Both films contain shots seemingly taken from the inside of multiple-storey houses. In “Up”, a small girl looks out of her window and sees a house floating in the air. In “Above Then Beyond”, there is shot seeming taken from a skyscraper, where an airborne house can be seen from the window of a business office.
- The high-angle shots of the main characters resting on a grass patch. In “Above Then Beyond”, the widow enjoys the sunshine lying on the grass after her successful escape onboard of her airborne house. In “Up”, there are similar shots of Carl and Ellie in the beginning of the film as they rest on the grass contemplating white clouds and envisaging their future.
- The long-distance shot of the airborne house in the sky, amidst the clouds.
Given the sheer number of similarities presented above, including the specific shots and details, any coincidental coming up with the same idea can be safely ruled out. Even if the creators could have developed their general ideas of the films simultaneously, there is still remains the fact that there are identical shots and details, and there is no logical explanation for such similarities.
Then, there is a question whether this is the case of simple inspiration-taking or using the ideas of “Above Then Beyond” to craft the very essence of the Pixar/Disney film. It seems to be the latter option. This is because the idea of a lonely person escaping a demolition and eviction through devising a flying house is just too central to the main premise of “Up”. The first 30 minutes (out of 1 hour and 30 minutes) of “Up”’s running time concern with the doomed house of a lonely person and making it airborne. Then, for the remaining hour, the flying house also features in the film. Although it is true that “Above Then Beyond” does not feature any adventure in South America, the idea of a flying house, arguably, remains the most memorable part of the film upon watching it, and Carl’s flying house features on virtually all posters of “Up”.
The counter-claim here is that there is some evidence to suggest that the writing for “Up” began in 2004, whereas the writing for “Above Then Beyond” began only in 2005. However, there are two “buts” to this claim. Firstly, it is unclear what, if any, concept related to the final product Pixar really had in 2004. This article says that there are very inconsistent stories on this issue coming from Pixar itself, including on the question whether they came up first with the concept of a flying house or with Carl. At one point, Pete Docter, the co-scriptwriter for “Up”, said that, at first (in 2004?) the company only had this idea of “escaping from life when it becomes too irritating”, and a Pixar image dated 2004 shows the character Carl with balloons. This claim is quite far from the finished product, which, in turn, resembles so clearly “Above Then Beyond”. Then, Pete Docter changed his story, and said that the company first came up with the idea of a floating house and then worked “backwards” from this concept. Docter’s earlier contradictory claims make his second statement doubtful. The earliest image from Pixar of a house floating in the air suspended by balloons appeared only 2006, but that is exactly the year of “Above Then Beyond”’s debut.
Secondly, Yannick Banchereau, the creator of “Above Then Beyond”, said that his French film school ESRA had a close partnership with Pixar, and this only points to the idea that Pixar must have seen the finished product of Banchereau at some point (the ESRA must have sent to Pixar Banchereau’s “Above Then Beyond”, or, otherwise, why there are so many similarities in detail and shots between the two animations?).
One other damning thing here is that it is not the first time that Pete Docter (the co-script-writer) was accused of taking other ideas and passing them as his own. His ground-breaking animation “Inside Out” (2015) was compared to The Moodsters and is painfully similar to the French short titled “Cortex Academy”, and there are allegations that “Toy Story” (1995) is far from being original.
Although Yannick Banchereau, the French student responsible for “Above Then Beyond”, immediately noticed the similarities between his short and “Up”, he was told he had no right to sue, because “Above Then Beyond” was produced as part of his studies and he had no claim to this creation.
To conclude, it is not the point of this article to diminish the brilliance of “Up”, but simply to point out that it is likely that Pixar/Disney must have taken a substantial portion of the insight from “Above Then Beyond” to create the main idea and set-up for “Up”. The number of similarities between the two films just cannot be ignored or be set aside as a mere coincidence. But, even if this is not the case, and by some miraculous intervention the two creators came up with the same idea of a floating house at roughly the same time, the sheer number of similar shots and details in both films could point to only one conclusion and that it is that the creators of “Up” must have seen and used aspects of “Above Then Beyond” before completing their own project.