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In 1939, 9-year-old Carl Fredricksen was a shy, quiet boy who idolized renowned explorer Charles F. Muntz. One day, Carl befriended an adventurous girl named Ellie, who is also a Muntz fan. She confided to Carl her desire to move her "clubhouse" — an abandoned house in the neighborhood — to a cliff overlooking Paradise Falls, and makes him promise to help her.
Carl and Ellie eventually got married and grew old together in the restored house, working in a zoo as a balloon vendor and zookeeper, respectively. Unable to have children, they repeatedly pool their savings for a trip to Paradise Falls, but end up spending it on more pressing needs.
Just as Carl and Ellie (who are both now senior citizens) finally seem to be able to take their trip, Ellie contracts an illness and dies of old age, leaving Carl living by himself, becoming bitter and cranky and missing his wife terribly. As the years passed, the city grew around Carl's old house with construction, as he refused to move.
After a fight with a construction worker named Steve over his broken mailbox, the court labeled Carl as a public menace and ordered him to move into Shady Oaks Retirement Home. Carl came up with a scheme to keep his promise to Ellie, and he used his old professional supplies to create a makeshift airship, using 10,000 helium balloons (although in real life, it would require over 1 million), which lifted Carl's house off its foundations. Russell, a young Wilderness Explorer (a fictional scouting organization), becomes an accidental passenger in his effort to earn his final merit badge for assisting the elderly.