Review: WALL-E

June 29, 2008 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment

poster

Chalk up another one for the Disney/Pixar team. WALL-E is not only the best animated movie of the year, it’s also one of the best animated movies ever made.  Relying primarily on visual narrative, WALL-E transcends most animated, and even traditional film, by doing what film does best: show emotions rather than telling them.

The movie takes place 700 years in the future.  The giant megacorporation Wal-mart…I mean Buy ‘N’ Large pretty much controls everythig, from the gas to the supermarkets to the transportation and living arrangements.  This comes at a price as the Earth is now covered in trash; it’s gotten so bad that humans have decided to leave for awhile and let these trash robots, WALL-E’s, to take care of the mess.  They’re useful robots that can take piles of trash and turn them into cubes for easy stacking.  One day, when all the trash is taken care of, the humans will return and re-colonize Earth.  That however, was hundreds of years previous from the start of the movie.

Our title hero is the last of his kind left on the planet.  The other units have long since worn out, leaving WALL-E alone to finish the job.  WALL-E is lonely, as you can see from the trailers; his only friend a cockroach that acts much like a pet dog.  He has his own ‘house’, which used to house all the WALL-E’s and now serves to hold all the junk our WALL-E doesn’t want to throw away.  He’s fascinated by the simplest of things, like light bulbs, television, clothing, and even old showtunes.  He watches musicals every night and longs for the day when he can meet someone else and share in all the emotions that he sees in the old recordings.  We are then introduced to EVE, a probing robot sent from the human resort ship Axiom.  Every once in awhile, the Axiom would send probes back to Earth to see how the cleanup is going.  Once they find evidence that the planet can again sustain life, the ship will turn around and bring all the humans back home.

WALL-E

This is where WALL-E begins to show its brilliance.  With barely any dialogue at all, we see the personalities of both WALL-E and EVE, one is a shy, goofy, yet caring robot; the other is like the equivalent to the ‘career woman’, someone who is focused solely on her job, and nothing else.  WALL-E tries desparately to get EVE to notice him, even by showing her his personal collection of junk.  She finds him amusing and slowly warms up to WALL-E when he shows her a discovery he made the other day: a tiny plant growing inside a long-abandoned referidgerator.  This sets off EVE’s primary directive, and she takes the plant and signals for a ship to come and pick her up so she can bring it to the Axiom‘s captain.  Thinking she’s being kidnapped, WALL-E stows away to save his new-found love.

WALL-E and EVE

The rest of the story is pretty straightforward, but what’s impressive about it is how everything is done with barely a dozen or so pages of dialogue.  It’s all action and visual cues.  Normally, in Hollywood screenwriting, the more white on the page, the better.  Action description must be kept to a minimum and dialogue is very important; however, the old saying in Hollywood, when it comes to acting or writing, is to show and not tell.  Don’t tell the audience you’re mad, show it.  In WALL-E, the whole film is showing us something.  We are shown WALL-E’s kindness, his curiosity, and more importantly, his love for EVE.

WALL-E is also packed with the trademark Pixar humor.  The funniest moments come from WALL-E just picking up the trash and looking at different objects.  He has no idea what they do, but they fascinate him.  A bra is something you wear on your head, fire extinguishers are scary, and a small cooler is something to keep your belongings in.  When we finally get to the Axiom, watching WALL-E interact with other robots is quite amusing.  Also, watching him finally interact with other humans is comedic gold.  The humans, by the way, have all become bed-ridden overweight potatoes.  Through too much mass-market consumption and consumerism, plus bodily issues when traveling in space, humans have basically become slobs, relying entirely on automated service to live.

on the Axiom

Visually, WALL-E is a standout, even among computer-generated films.  Rumor has it that Academy award-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins was a technical adivsor to the film, helping cultivate its unique look.  What I found interesting, in the beginning, was the film’s use of camera angles, long lenses, and depth of field.  It was like watching a documentary, or some kind of nature program where a hidden camera captures all of WALL-E’s actions.  Later on, however, the camera becomes more traditional, when the movie turns into a rescue mission and not a National Geographic special.

The sound is amazing as well.  Sound designer Ben Burtt deserves another Oscar for his work here.  Technically he plays the voice of WALL-E and M-O, a smaller cleaning robot.  What he’s done was used different digitized sound effects to create WALL-E’s ‘voice’ and other sounds.  Ben Burtt is quite possibly the best in his field, having worked as sound designer on all 6 Star Wars films (he created the voice of R2-D2, and the familiar hum of the lightsaber) as well as editor for the Star Wars prequels, and a slew of projects for Steven Spielberg.  The other actors play their limited roles nicely, with a cameo by John Ratzenberger, who has voiced many characters over Pixar’s short history, and a live-action performance (the first ever for a Pixar film) by Fred Willard as the ‘global CEO’ of BNL (Buy ‘N ‘ Large).  Also, the music by Finding Nemo composer Thomas Newman, is fantastic, some of the best compositions I’ve heard all year.

space

I remember nearly crying on several occasions throughout WALL-E, not necassarily because it’s sad (and there are a few sad parts), but because of the wealth of emotions that WALL-E displays.  There’s a scene where WALL-E’s in space with EVE, and I’m not going to give anything away, but it’s just magical and I really felt happy for our heroes.  Even though this is still a children’s movie, I suspect that many of these nuances will be lost on them.  They will find WALL-E cute, the movie funny, and will have experienced a great adventure.  Adults, however, may just enjoy this film more.  WALL-E is like a child living in an adult body; he experiences emotions and tries to show them much like a human would, with small, nearly unnoticeables actions that display this, and that is something younger viewers may miss.

holding hands

WALL-E is a film that can be enjoyed by all ages, and regardless of culture.  Director Andrew Stanton (who helmed Pixar’s sea-faring hit Finding Nemo) has possibly surpassed Brad Bird as the premiere animation director of this generation.  His attention to detail and actions is phenomenal.  Stanton gives us a truly believable character in an unbelievably rich world, regardless of the length of dialogue.  Andrew Stanton and the geniuses at Pixar have given a film that goes beyond other animated efforts, and even some live-action ones, on so many different levels.  This is a beautiful film on all accounts: the characters, the writing, the visuals; but one thing it does so well is the emotion.  We fall in love as WALL-E falls in love.  We become sad when he does.  Pixar has created the most lovable robot since R2-D2.  With his large, puppy-dog-like eyes,  WALL-E seems like a most unusual hero.  In the end, WALL-E is absolutely brilliant.

10/10

(images from Yahoo!)

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