Now Streaming: “Carl’s Date” (Pixar)
Genre: Animated Short Film, Kids and Family
Streaming service: Disney+
Summary: This short film follows Carl Fredricksen (the late Ed Asner), who reluctantly goes on his first date since his late wife Ellie’s death, but he has no idea how dating works.
[WARNING: This content contains spoilers]
Carl Fredricksen endeared himself to audiences in the 2009 film “Up” as a grumpy older widower grieving the death of his beloved wife, Ellie, and the unfulfilled dreams they shared. In that film, Carl attaches helium-filled balloons to his house and flies to South America, where he forms an unlikely bond with stowaway scout Russell and a talking Golden Retriever, Dug. These connections help fulfill Carl’s need for companionship and adventure that he thought had been lost. He begins to find joy in life again.
Two years ago, Disney/Pixar gave fans a glimpse of Carl’s life after returning home and settling into a cozy home with Dug. Carl’s adventure concludes in the short film, “Carl’s Date,” released last month on Disney+. After accepting an invitation to spend time with a female acquaintance, Carl turns his wedding portrait around and apologizes to his late wife. He then begins to panic because he believes his dating skills are out of practice. Dug doesn’t understand why “Papa” is all worked up but he’s there for Carl anyway.
Carl’s nervous energy is palpable until the final scene, when Dug rests his head on Carl’s lap and assures him that he is lovable just as he is. Carl realizes he can seek companionship and hold reverence for Ellie at the same time. “You’ll always be my girl,” he wistfully says to the portrait before heading out, calling the outing “a new kind of adventure for both of us.” He promises Ellie he’ll be home at a decent hour and that Dug will be a faithful chaperone.
This film touched me deeply because of the close bond I share with my mother and grandmother-in-law, both of whom are widows. I’ve seen their moments of sadness, strength and joy, many of which are echoed in Carl’s journey. “Carl’s Date” attempts to bring humor to a reality that is sometimes challenging; individuals who have lost a spouse may crave companionship while also feeling guilt or anxiety about dating again. They may feel pressure or judgment from loved ones and perhaps even from the person they are dating.
Many factors come into play when someone is considering dating after the death of a spouse. Some may want to marry again. Others seek a companion to spend time with on a regular basis, like my grandmother-in-law. My mother chose to channel her energy into being an active grandparent. Some find connection in a grief support group or through volunteering. Others may strengthen pre-existing friendships. Several of our diocesan priests discerned their calling after losing a spouse. There are many ways to move forward and fulfill our human need for connection.
Carl has already found love and connection through being a dog “parent.” We don’t see what happens on the date, though it is implied that Carl is open to the possibility of spending time with this woman on a consistent basis through non-sexual companionship. While the 8-minute film cannot fully address the myriad ways that people move forward after the death of a spouse, hopefully, it will help widows and widowers feel a sense of validation. Perhaps the rest of us can take note of the way Dug accompanies Carl. While he may not always understand or say the right thing, he comes through in the end by telling Carl what he needs to hear most: that he is not alone.
Think about the widows and widowers in your life. How have they coped with their loss?
Why might someone feel guilty about dating after the death of a spouse?
How can friends and loved ones accompany widows and widowers in their journey? What role can parishes play?
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at email@example.com or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)