In 1939, 9-year-old Carl Fredricksen was a shy, quiet boy who idolized renowned explorer Charles F. Muntz. One day, Carl befriended an adventurous girl named Ellie, who is also a Muntz fan. She confided to Carl her desire to move her "clubhouse" — an abandoned house in the neighborhood — to a cliff overlooking Paradise Falls, and makes him promise to help her. Carl and Ellie eventually got married and grew old together in the restored house, working in a zoo as a balloon vendor and zookeeper, respectively. Unable to have children, they repeatedly pool their savings for a trip to Paradise Falls, but end up spending it on more pressing needs.
Just as Carl and Ellie (who are both now senior citizens) finally seem to be able to take their trip, Ellie contracts an illness and dies of old age, leaving Carl living by himself, becoming bitter and cranky and missing his wife terribly. As the years passed, the city grew around Carl's old house with construction, as he refused to move.
After a fight with a construction worker named Steve over his broken mailbox, the court labeled Carl as a public menace and ordered him to move into Shady Oaks Retirement Home. Carl came up with a scheme to keep his promise to Ellie, and he used his old professional supplies to create a makeshift airship, using 10,000 helium balloons (although in real life, it would require over 1 million), which lifted Carl's house off its foundations. Russell, a young Wilderness Explorer (a fictional scouting organization), becomes an accidental passenger in his effort to earn his final merit badge for assisting the elderly.
After surviving a thunderstorm, the house lands near a ravine facing Paradise Falls. Carl and Russell harness themselves to the still-buoyant house and begin to walk it around the ravine, hoping to reach the falls before the balloons deflate. They later befriend a tall, colorful flightless bird (whom Russell names "Kevin") trying to reach her chicks, and a dog named Dug, who wears a special collar that allows him to speak.
Carl and Russell encounter a pack of dogs led by Alpha, who is Dug's superior, and are taken to their master, who turns out to be an elderly Charles Muntz. Muntz invites Carl and Russell aboard his dirigible, where he explains that he has spent the years since his disgrace searching Paradise Falls for the giant bird. When Russell innocuously notes the bird's similarity to Kevin, Muntz becomes hostile, prompting the pair to flee with Kevin and Dug. Muntz eventually catches up with them and starts a fire beneath Carl's house, forcing Carl to choose between saving it or Kevin. Carl rushes to put out the fire, allowing Muntz to take the bird. Carl and Russell eventually reach the falls, but Russell is angry with Carl over his decision to save his house instead of Kevin.
Settling into his home, Carl looks through Ellie's childhood scrapbook and finds a note from Ellie that says "Thanks for the adventure, Now go have a new one". Reinvigorated, he goes to find Russell, only to see him sailing off on some balloons to save Kevin. Carl empties the house of furniture and possessions (to lighten it seeing as many of the balloons are either gone or losing helium) and pursues him.
Russell is captured by Muntz, but Carl manages to board the dirigible in flight and free both Russell and Kevin. Muntz pursues them around the airship, finally cornering Dug, Kevin, and Russell inside Carl's tethered house. Carl lures Kevin out through a window and back onto the airship with Dug and Russell clinging to her back, just as Muntz is about to close in; Muntz leaps after them, only to snag his foot on some balloon lines and fall to his death. Snapped from its tether, the house descends out of sight through the clouds, which Carl accepts as being for the best.
Carl and Russell reunite Kevin with her chicks, then fly the dirigible back to the city. When Russell's father misses his son's Senior Explorer ceremony, Carl presents Russell with his final badge: the grape soda cap that Ellie gave to Carl when they first met. The two then enjoy some ice cream together, sitting on the curb outside the shop as Russell and his father used to do, with the dirigible parked nearby. Meanwhile, Carl's house is shown to have landed on the cliff beside Paradise Falls, as promised to Ellie.
Dug's Special Mission
Carl appears in Dug's short as a supporting character.
George and A.J.
Carl appears in this animated short as a minor character.
After Ellie's death, Carl has become lonely, cranky, and bitter and misses his wife terribly. Though with Russell's help he became nicer.
Carl has the typical stubborn character of a man his age but deep down he's a kind person, but has his limits in patience and temper. He found Russell, Dug, and Kevin to be annoyances and obstructions in his goal to fulfill Ellie's dream of moving their home to Paradise Falls, but after he read her last message to him, he did what was right and saved Russell and Kevin, and accepted Dug as his dog.
When he lost his and Ellie's house, he was saddened but realized Ellie would have done the same, stating "It's just a house".
Carl vouched for Russell at his ceremony and gave the young scout the very same soda bottle cap that Ellie gave him the day they met, having come to love Russell as the son, or perhaps grandson he never had.
In his youth (age 9), Carl was a fan of Charles F. Muntz, who piloted his own self-made dirigible, the Spirit of Adventure. One day, while running down a sidewalk, pretending to pilot his balloon (a regular blue balloon with the words "Spirit of Adventure" written on the side), Carl hears a voice coming from a dilapidated house. Curious, Carl enters the house and meets Ellie, a young tomboy and fellow fan of Charles F. Muntz, and they become close friends almost instantly. Ellie's startling introduction causes Carl to release his balloon, which gets stuck in the attic. With Ellie's encouragement, he tries to get it back by crossing a single wooden plank across the second floor of the house. However, the wooden plank breaks, and Carl ends up breaking his arm. Later that night, Ellie visits him at his bedroom (returning his balloon to him) and shows Carl her secret Adventure Book. She also tells Carl of her plans to go to Paradise Falls, the same place Charles F. Muntz had visited on his recent expedition to capture an exotic creature.
Years later, Carl and Ellie get married and they begin rebuilding the old house, making it their home. Ellie becomes a tour guide for a zoo and Carl becomes a balloon salesman, working side-by-side. They go through many stages of their life together (at one point, expecting a child, only to find out that Ellie is infertile) and dream of going to Paradise Falls in South America.
However, due to their general life expenses and Ellie's aging, they become incapable of making the trip. Ellie dies peacefully and Carl lives as a lonely, elderly widower afterwards.
Carl is now 78-years old and cranky, has become withdrawn and lonely due to losing his wife. He also carries a cane as he is unable to walk normally. He manages to get through the day, performing arbitrary tasks (such as cleaning the windows, getting the mail, and watching television), but is socially isolated and avoids human interaction. Carl's house now sits on a large construction site. He refuses to leave the house because, to him, it symbolizes his lost love, even going as far as talking to it as if it were Ellie, and it remains an important material possession that he must keep. The leader of the construction crew has apparently been hassling him to sell the house for some time, but Carl remains persistent, even retaliating with acts such as "pouring prune juice in his gas tank".
Carl soon meets Russell, a young Wilderness Explorer looking to acquire his final badge, the "Assisting the Elderly Badge". Hoping that Carl will confide in his quest to become a Senior Wilderness Explorer, Russell knocks on Carl's door, and asks to help him. Carl refuses, and dismisses the boy as obnoxious. Russell is adamant to assist Carl, and Carl sends him off on a wild goose chase to find a "snipe", a bird that does not exist according to Carl. After Russell leaves, a construction worker accidentally directs a large vehicle into Carl's mailbox. Outraged by what has happened, Carl chastises the man, and struggles to take the mailbox from him, while the worker tries to fix it. Carl strikes the worker on the head with his cane, even causing the man to bleed, and nervously withdraws into his house. The leader of the construction crew stares at Carl through his window menacingly.
Carl is then sued, and evicted from his house, forcing him to move into a retirement home. While gathering his belongings to leave the next morning, he stumbles across Ellie's old Adventure Book. He searches through it, and upon reaching the page saying "Stuff I'm Going To Do", makes a strong decision to fulfill his promise to Ellie to get to Paradise Falls. He spends the entire night rigging his house with thousands of balloons.
After returning from South America, Russell attends a Wilderness Explorer sweat lodge meeting, to receive his "Assisting the Elderly Badge". The Campmaster approaches Russell to give his father the badge, but Russell's father is absent. While Russell is looking around for his father, Carl walks across the stage to Russell and tells the Campmaster that he's here for him. The Campmaster hands Carl the badge. Carl then leans down to Russell, and gives him his grape soda bottle cap Ellie had given to him as a kid, instead of the badge. Carl does so while saying it is the "highest honor I can bestow, the Ellie Badge". Carl, Russell, and Dug, a talking dog, are then found sitting at the curb outside Fentons, counting cars as they drive by and eating their ice cream with their own Zeppelin moored right above their heads. His old home is seen perched on the top of Paradise Falls, fulfilling his childhood promise to Ellie after all those years.
One of the stylization choices made for Up was that a square represented the past and a circle represented the future, the reason for Carl being box-shaped. After the death of his wife Ellie, Carl has shut off the world around him and has sunk very low to the ground, like a brick. But the characters around him, which have curves, circles and other shapes making up their figures, continue to change while Carl stays within the confinements of his "square".
- Carl: "I believe I made my position to your boss quite clear."
Tom: "You poured prune juice into his gas tank."
Carl: "Yeah, that was good. Here, let me talk to him." (talks into megaphone) "You in the suit! Yes, you! Take a bath, hippie!"
Tom: (grabs megaphone) "I am not with him!" (talks to Carl) "This is serious! He's out to get your house!"
Carl: "Tell your boss he can have our house!"
Carl: "When I'm dead!"
- —Carl and Tom
- Carl: "Alright! We're going to Paradise Falls quickly and quietly with no rap music or flash dancing!"
Russell: "Wait. Why are we going to Paradise Falls again?"
Carl: "Hey. Let's play a game. It's called "See who could be quiet the longest"."
Russell: "Cool. My mom loves that game!"
- —Carl talking to Russell
- Russell: (comes in with a giant bird) "I found the snipe!"
Carl: (not facing Russell and answering sarcastically) "Oh, did you?"
Russell: "Are they tall?"
Carl: (still sarcastically) "Ohm yes. They're very tall."
Russell: "Do they have a lot of colors?"
Carl: "They do indeed."
Russell: "Do they like chocolate?"
Carl: (starting off sarcastically) "Oh, yeah..." (stops with a start) "Chocolate?" (turns around and sees the bird as it squawks at him) "Gah! What is that thing?!"
Russell: "It's a snipe!"
Carl: (takes Russell and moves him away from the bird) "Th-there's no such thing as a snipe!"
- —Carl and Russell talking about Kevin
- Dug: (Kevin pins him to the ground) "Wow! I've never seen the bird so up close, but this is the bird. May I take your bird back to camp as my prisoner?"
Carl: "Yes, yes. Take him! And on the way, learn how to bark like a real dog!"
- —Carl and Dug
- Carl: (sitting down panting) "I think that did the trick." (looks to the left and Dug with a tennis ball in his mouth is right next to him)
Dug: "Hi, master."
Carl: (ruggedly) "Afternoon."
- —Carl distraught over Dug
- If Carl is 78 years old in 2009, and if he was 9 in 1939, he was either born in 1930 or 1929.
- Carl wore the same style of glasses at every age.
- Carl's personality may be a reference to Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.
- To lift a house such as Carl's (and rip it loose from the utility pipes/cables anchoring it) would in reality require vastly more balloons than are shown.
- An unpowered airship (such as Carl's house) would not be steerable; it would go wherever the wind goes.
- Both these last two points were Pixar deciding to go for believable rather than realistic.
- Although Carl doesn't have his own musical theme, Ellie's theme plays whenever he thinks about her, and also plays against Muntz's theme during the climax.
- Carl is the second oldest protagonist of a Pixar film, the oldest being WALL•E, as he has been "alive" for more than 700 years (the movie WALL•E takes place in 2805, and Up takes place in 2009 the year it was released).
- Carl is also the second Pixar protagonist to lose his love interest after Marlin from Finding Nemo.
- It is believed that Carl is inspired by American actor Spencer Tracy.