Minorities in comics and animation: Russell (“Up”)

Russell ("Up")Thought I’d make this week’s entry a Pixar-related one, in light of the passing of Steve Jobs. Besides Apple, Jobs also headed Pixar during its 90s rise to fame; thanks to “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” and a spate of other films, Pixar has become a powerhouse in animation, not to mention spawning many imitators. On the down side, theatrical animation in the US, thanks to other studios trying badly to ape Pixar’s success, is now near-exclusively CGI-based. TV animation, when not cutting corners by using Flash animation, has lately been relying heavily on CGI animation as well. CGI TV shows have been produced about everyone from Casper the Friendly Ghost to Babar the Elephant to an upcoming Green Lantern series.

Anyway, this week’s entry is Russell, from Pixar’s 2009 movie “Up.” Russell is a young member of a Boy Scout-like organization (called the “Wilderness Explorers”), who’s trying to seek a merit badge for assisting the elderly. This brings Russell to the door of the movie’s other lead character, Carl (voiced by Ed Asner), who’s trying to honor his late wife’s wishes by flying their house (via balloons tied to the roof) to a waterfall in South America. Unplanned by Carl, he winds up bringing Russell along for the trip.

Russell’s initially shown as quite eager at his scouting role, trying very hard to earn his badge (to go with the multitude of ones he already has). Of course, we soon learn reasons why Russell’s thrown himself into his scouting duties so much, and he (eventually) forms a bond with Carl. As seen in the photo above, Russell’s also an example of youthful enthusiasm and openness to new ideas (or technology, in the photo’s case), traits which Carl’s wife also embodied. This stands in contrast to Carl, who after the death of his wife, has become set in his ways and somewhat cantankerous.

Russell was voiced by Jordan Nagai, a (now-11-year-old) Japanese American voice actor. “Up” marks the second Pixar film with a non-Caucasian main human character (after Frozone in “The Incredibles”).

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