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Open Access Empire is out there!?: The spirit of imperialism in the Pixar animated film ‘Up’

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The animated feature Up (Pete Docter, 2009) tells the story of wilderness explorer Charles Muntz in search of a rare species of bird in the South American valley of Paradise Falls and widower Carl Frederickson hoping to mend the pain of losing his wife by fulfilling their lifelong dream of traveling to the same valley. Both men pursue their fantasies of adventure in South America. I situate this narrative within discourses of imperialism and the Monroe Doctrine. Whereas Charles has usurped Paradise Falls in his zealous decades-long hunt the film offers an alternative to his imperial fixation by portraying the redemptive experience of Carl during his travels. As the latter learns to define adventure as a spiritual endeavor, Carl sheds his imperial obsession and rescues his South American friends from Charles. I argue that Up attempts to critique the damaging effects of imperialism ‐ and by extension the ‘War on Terror’ ‐ through the figure of the fallen hero Charles but disavows the ‘informal’ qualities of U.S. empire embodied by Carl. This disavowal of the informal features of (U.S.) imperialism in Up allows me to explore the persistence of the ‘tenacious grasp’ of U.S. exceptionalism, while the imagery of a queer, transnational community also suggests alteration in the tropes of U.S. imperialism.
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Keywords: Pixar; ambiguity; animation; identity; ideology; imperialism; queer

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: PhD candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies at Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin in Germany.

Publication date: March 1, 2014

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  • NECSUS is an international, double-blind peer reviewed journal of media studies connected to NECS (European Network for Cinema and Media Studies) and published by Amsterdam University Press. The journal is multidisciplinary and strives to bring together the best work in the field of media studies across the humanities and social sciences. We aim to publish research that matters and that improves the understanding of media and culture inside and outside the academic community. Each volume includes feature articles, a special thematic section, a video essay section, and a reviews section that covers books, festivals, and exhibitions. NECSUS is targeted to a broad readership of researchers, lecturers, and students, and will be offered as a biannual open access, online journal.

    The journal is published in Open Access, with the following Creative Commons copyright license: Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

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