Who Is Russell’s Dad in ‘Up’? This Fan Theory Might Have Figured It Out

We never officially “meet” Russell’s father, but according to some internet sleuths, he might be in the 2009 flick after all.
Carl isn't his father—but someone else in the film might be.
Carl isn't his father—but someone else in the film might be. / Disney/Pixar

Pixar films seem to attract fan theorists like few others. Consider it a testament to the richness of the worlds they present—viewers can’t help trying to connect the dots and speculate about things. Up, an absolutely heartbreaking film that also features a really silly dog, is no exception. 

It’s easy to forget some of the plot of 2009’s Up, because the first 20 minutes are so emotionally devastating for some that it takes the rest of the movie to recover. The story follows Carl, a grumpy widower who attaches helium balloons to his house and flies it to South America to fulfill a promise he made to his late wife. The adventure that ensues involves a giant bird, an eccentric explorer, the aforementioned dog, and a Wilderness Explorer scout named Russell.

Something we never learn about 8-year-old Russell is where his dad is—we’re told that he has a girlfriend named Phyllis, and it is strongly implied that there’s been a divorce or separation, and Russell sees far less of his father than he’d like to.

One fan theory posits that we do, in fact, meet Russell’s dad in the movie, and that he is the construction supervisor seen at the beginning of the film, overseeing the redevelopment work surrounding Carl’s house.

Both Russell and the supervisor have dark hair and attached earlobes, and—well, to be honest that’s about it. We can’t see all of the supervisor’s face due to his helmet and sunglasses, although at one point we see his hand, which doesn’t have a wedding ring on it, which kind of lines up with the theory. He’s not married anymore, but is in a new relationship. So no ring? That tracks.

Russell is Asian-American, with his character design based on Korean-American Pixar animator Peter Sohn (who went on to direct both 2015’s The Good Dinosaur and 2023’s Elemental). As Redditor u/newfoundtheorist insists, even if the construction supervisor is white (and his ethnicity is at least slightly ambiguous), given that we see Russell’s mom at the end of the movie, and she is also Asian-American, he might just take after his mother.

A promotion to the demanding job of a construction supervisor could, the theory posits, be behind Russell’s statement that his dad used to spend a lot of time with him but no longer does. The stress of working long, arduous hours can place a lot of pressure on parents. Russell also has a GPS tracker his dad gave him, a very expensive gift to bestow upon an 8-year-old, which is seen as further evidence for this theory. Flashy, pricey gifts bought with money from his new role could be presented as a way of compensating for his absence. 

It would also potentially explain why Russell was there knocking on Carl’s door in the first place. Sent out to knock on doors, he’s headed straight for the ones as close to his dad as possible. It would be an odd area to target otherwise as it’s no longer a residential area.

There could be something to the theory—it’s certainly no less plausible than most other ones, and it doesn’t involve enormous suspension of disbelief or take anything away from any of the events of the film. The theory is also much less upsetting than the one that Carl dies near the start of the film, and the whole flight to South America is his journey to the afterlife.

A lot of that one comes down to the sheer number of balloons that would be needed to lift a house; while the filmmakers animated 10,000, physics enthusiasts have worked out that the actual number required would be over 31 million. Compared to the fan theory where Paradise Falls is heaven, this one about Russell’s dad is a lot easier to handle.

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