General Question

MrItty's avatar

SPOILER-filled Up plot question...

Asked by MrItty (17386points) June 2nd, 2009


What was up with the subplot of Russel’s family? All I got were glimpses of ideas:
* His Dad and he used to be close, eating ice cream on the corner.
* His Dad isn’t around much now
* Someone named “Phyllis”, who isn’t his mother, tells him that his Dad thinks he’s annoying (???)
* There is a woman who comes to his badge ceremony, presumably Phyllis, but doesn’t go on the stage with him, even though she presumably knows his Dad isn’t there for him.

Did anyone else get the feeling there was a lot more to Russel’s family story that was cut out of the final film?

Or did I just miss some big detail in there somewhere?

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11 Answers

EmpressPixie's avatar

I thought his mom went to the ceremony. His folks have split up and Phyllis is his dad’s new wife/girlfriend. Phyllis doesn’t want Russell around or getting in touch with his father (and his father doesn’t seem to care either). So they’ve run off without him, basically.

His mom—who was at the ceremony—still cares.

syz's avatar

He’s a child of divorce, who is now excluded from his father’s life, in part due to his new girlfriend “Phyllis”.

dynamicduo's avatar

I really loved Russel’s backstory, specifically because it was there but not there, and actually sad. Perhaps there was a scene with Russel’s dad cut out, but in thinking about the words I’ve typed here, I think the story is complete without a cut scene.

Him lacking a father figure made a nice void for Carl to fill. It helped Carl develop a closer bond to Russel throughout the film (I’m remembering when Carl sees Russel in the chair and calls out to him). It may also be a good way to teach kids that other people can “become” your family, as that concept is much more mainstream due to higher divorce rates.

I figured Russel’s parents were divorced, Phyllis would be the dad’s new wife (hence the badmouthing), and it was Russel’s mom in the audience at the end, sitting alone but happy for her kid.

Russel striving for his last badge was symbolic of him striving to have a closer relationship with his father, as his dad said he would come pin it on, and at the beginning of the movie it is in fact Russel’s only driving force for his actions in helping Carl. But as the movie progresses, Russel realizes that it’s not really about the badge at all (nice symbolism as Carl wears the badge sash, handy for the plot too), and that in searching for the missing badge, he has really found a new person to look up to in Carl.

In the end, Russell gets the badge, pinned on by Carl, but more importantly, he makes a new friend in Carl, as shown in the credit pictures. And vice versa, Carl makes a friend in the kid, not to replace the child he never had, but to give him the similar experiences in mentoring a growing kid.

MrItty's avatar

Thanks all. It seems obvious hearing it. I guess I just didn’t figure a Disney (or Disney/Pixar, whatever) film would have a real-life concept as dark or depressing as a father abandoning his kid because his new wife doesn’t like him… Yeesh. Still a great movie though! :-)

MrItty's avatar

(and it still bothers me that the Mother would sit in the crowd and not go on stage to give him his badge. Gender roles be damned, if she’s the only parent there, she should have taken that place.)

dynamicduo's avatar

That’s what you get when it’s Pixar running the show instead of Disney, for once the mother in the story isn’t killed off :D

Regarding that pinning scene, I think it was important to have Carl do it not only for the story but to give him the most important badge of them all, the Ellie badge (this was the 4th time I started sobbing). I figured the story around that was that Russell’s dad still had a chance to come, but at the last minute he didn’t show up (what a flake) so Carl who was there anyway took the place, and the mom was fine with this because her son looked so happy.

I’m not really sure if the dad abandoned Russell because he hated him per se. In fact, I think this represents a child’s skewed perception. We all know of the archetype of the evil stepmother (hahaha, thanks Disney), but in this case I think Phyllis might have said some comment in a heated moment and Russell really took it to heart. This combined with his dad having a new wife and a new life may have been the final push for Russell to really think that his dad didn’t want to spend time with him.

Oh… I think I may go and see it again today! This time I’ll have good seats though (not second row last seat) for the full and greatest 3D experience.

hearkat's avatar

@dynamicduo: I knew I was in trouble when the film had me weeping in the first ten minutes!!

MrItty's avatar

@dynamicduo great answer, and great interpretation of the movie. I completely agree that Carl should have pinned the “Ellie badge”, it just bothered me from an analytic point of view, of why wasn’t the mother up there in the first place?

But I like your possibility – that the father was going to show up as far as they knew. And I also like another possibility – when they showed the mother, she was sitting with Dug. That obviously means she’s likely to have heard about Russel’s story and probably met Carl, so she may have worked it out with him beforehand…

EmpressPixie's avatar

Re: Disney going for real life sad-facedness, see Lilo and Stitch (when Lilo tells him to get out and he does or when Child Protective Services takes Lilo or kind of the entire plot of CPS being on the verge of taking Lilo), the Incredibles (when the plane gets hit), and others. They’ve had a darker, more realistic bend lately.

Edited to add: and I like it.

fishamaphone's avatar

I’ve got a theory on this that I haven’t seen anyone else propose yet.

Part of this may be my naivete. I thought Phyllis was a nanny, and divorce didn’t even enter my head. If the father is busy all the time, chances are he makes a lot of money, and if he makes a lot of money, he probably has some sort of permanent caretaker, who made the comment more in anger at her employer than at the child.

Now this is where I get a bit creative: Who was the only real well-to-do guy we ever saw on screen? Who would have been in the area so that when he stops paying attention to his kid, the kid could easily end up at Carl’s house? Who, really, is the most poetic candidate for Russell’s father to be?

He wasn’t named, but that executive-looking guy that wanted to kick Carl out of his house… in my head, he was Russell’s dad: a serious, no-nonsense, unemotional statue of a father figure that Russel could never hope to relate to. A man who wouldn’t be interested in Wilderness Explorers in the slightest, and not understand the importance of the club for a kid. A man who would give his son a GPS as a toy.

Most people consider Muntz the main villain in the movie. I personally found him to be rather pitiable. The guy was (wrongly) made into a mockery, and has spent literally the rest of his life trying to bring honor back to his name. He was an obstacle, but he wasn’t a villain.

I like my theory because it makes Russell’s dad into the true villain. He started out with a position of power over the both of the main characters, each in a different way. but through the course of the movie, they both managed to grow, and managed to get away from this influence. Carl came to terms with Ellie, so he doesn’t need the house that was so threatened by the man, and Russell found a new father figure in Carl, so he doesn’t have to depend on his poor excuse for a real father.

Assuming I’m right, I don’t think there would have been a good place to really mention this in the movie without being camp or obnoxious. But I was really hoping for some kind of confirmation of my theory. Oh well, I’ll have to be satisfied with keeping it in my head or waiting for some kind of director commentary.

Sarahdnd's avatar

I have a couple of theories one of them was the divorce situation. The other is that Russells mother passed away. He does talk about how his dad used to be really involved in his life and then just stopped. I think that maybe after his wife died he threw himself into work and stays away from home because it is too sad for him. Russell is now basically raised by his nanny (Phillys) who’s is the one at the ceremony. Which is why she wouldn’t be on stage.

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