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  • Writer's pictureLoren Javier

WHY HE'S AWESOME: Russell from Pixar's Up

Photo: Disney/Pixar

I have always identified Russell the WIlderness Explorer from Pixar's Up as my spirit character. He's just such a lovable chubby Asian American kid and I relate to his awkward joie de vivre.

I remember when they first started promoting Up, I was certain that Pixar had lost its mind. They wanted to do a film about an old man in a house floating on balloon power. But, as the marketing went on, I noticed the little kid and started wondering if he was Asian American. There was no real marketing about that fact, so I had to look it up.

It turned out that this little egg shaped was inspired by Pixar animator, director and storyboard artist Peter Sohn who also happens to be of Korean descent.

Sohn told The Chosun Ilbo, one of Korea's major new sources, "The atmosphere here at work is like playing. We draw each other's faces in meetings, and Russell's face was actually my face that someone had drawn. We decided to make the main character of the new film Asian, and naturally I became the model."

Photo: Disney/Pixar

My interest was piqued because I liked a) that the character was Asian American without putting them in some Asian setting; b) that Russell did not fall into stereotypical Asian tropes; and c) the didn't market him as the lovable "Asian American" character. He was just a lovable character.

Then, they added to the mix the voice work of a young Japanese American boy by the name of Jordan Nagai. Jordan wasn't even really auditioning for the role. His brother did, but director Pete Docter took notice of Jordan. Docter told the Los Angeles Times, "They recorded Jordan here, and they brought the tapes up to Pixar and we listened to like 35 tapes. As soon as Jordan's voice came on we started smiling because he is appealing and innocent and cute and different from what I was initially thinking."

I don't think we can even imagine another voice for Russell. And he played so well with Ed Asner's Carl Fredricksen and Bob Peterson's Dug.

And, finally, there is the deceptively simple design that makes him so wonderful. According to Docter, who told the New York Times, "Russell is like a whirling dervish. He's spinning and moving, so we designed him more like a top or a balloon." There is also something more comforting and approachable in a rounder shape.

I think that's what I love about meeting Russell in the Disney Parks. He's such a round bundle of joy that you can't help but hug.

Whatever the case might be, Russell is certainly part of the secret of success of Pixar's Up, one of the few movies nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature categories at the Academy Awards. He's a pioneer for Asian American characters everywhere.

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