Saturday, June 28, 2008


To sum up my reaction to Pixar's WALL-E in one word: "astonishment."

I am astonished not only at the beauty and craftsmanship of WALL-E as a film, but at the very fact that such a narrative would unspool on the heels of the Walt Disney Pictures logo. Though the film is certainly appropriate for young audiences, and the children in the theater when I saw the film seemed transfixed enough, this is a piece of genuine, mature science-fiction, with all the attending Big Ideas and Complex Themes associated with that tradition. With this movie, Pixar completely steps outside of the realm of "family entertainment" to create something that is not only entertaining, whimsical and cute but also provocative and vital. It could very well end up being the year's best film.

Think I'm overstating the case here? WALL-E opens on a dystopian future Earth where all the humans have vanished and everything's coated in a thick layer of trash and grime, most of it bearing the logo of the Buy 'N Large Corporation. That's got to be a first in the Disney canon, right? Apocalyptic visions of the future in which rampant consumerism has somehow led to the end of human life on Earth?

A plucky, self-aware robot named WALL-E wanders around this hellscape picking up crash and crushing it into neat blocks. He does not speak. His only friends are a cockroach, the only living thing that seems to have survived the calamity, and the trinkets, remnants of human civilization, he finds during his travels.

Things change for WALL-E when he falls in love with another robot, EVE, who has flown to Earth on some kind of intergalactic mission. It's a tentative romance: neither WALL-E nor EVE have lips, nor can they speak, which can complicate such matters.

And it's about at this point that the tightrope Pixar is walking comes into clear relief...This is a complex love story about two robots, told without any dialogue. For pretty much the film's first half, the storytelling is entirely visual, pure animation. These characters are brought to life with such clarity, even their tiny gestures carry meaning and move the story forward.

Typically, when I hear people praise Pixar's animation, it's because of the gorgeous, eerily realistic, colorful worlds in which their stories take place. The bustling Scream Factory of Monsters, Inc., or the Paris of Ratatouille, or the scenic desert vistas of Cars. WALL-E certainly carries on this tradition.

After the film, we were discussing how accurately the animators managed to covey weightlessness when the characters are in space. All of the film's environments have been rendered in lush detail, from the brown, sand-coated Earth to the sleek, immaculate interiors of the Axiom Spacecraft. In a particularly nice touch, ancient live-action footage of the Big 'N Large CEO (played by a perfectly-chosen comic actor) urging you to shop till you drop plays on video screens in the background on Earth.

But beyond all the majesty of the settings, WALL-E works as well as it does because of the character animation. I'd say the work done here on WALL-E himself, the way his camera lens eyes constantly focus and refocus to take everything in, the way his neck extends slightly when he feels encouraged, his slight mechanized klutziness, more closely resembles the classic era of Disney Animation than anything the studio has released in my lifetime.

But WALL-E has more emotional resonance and adroit social commentary than many of Disney's animated classics (not all, but some), which sometimes used brilliant animation in the service of disposable fairy tale retreads. It's nothing less than a movie about the human race and its place on this planet, how the choices we're making right now about the way we live impact both ourselves and our environment. Plus it stars the voice of Jeff Garlin. Oh, just go see it already...


Sarah Atwood said...

Really?! I didn't think it was going to be that great. I guess I'll check it out.

Ursos said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. I just got back from seeing it, and it's the best movie I've seen in a long time. Everyone with a significant other needs to go see it on a date right now (and if you have kids already, they'll dig it too, of course). Brilliant movie.

Brian said...

Best movie of the year. Just saw it with my 12 year old daughter (loved it), 15 year old son (loved it), 19 year old son (loved it), and wife. The movie is absolutely amazing, and I can't wait to see it again.

When you can communicate feelings without words between two robots, you know you are doing something right.

I laughed so much during this movie, it has something for everyone!

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Larry said...

Great insight Lon!! Great movie. I could watch over and over again. It was probably the best Pixar movie in my opinion. Most people will still like Toy Story or Finding Nemo. But, I think this story touches on a lot areas with in our world that most people don't recognize. As Lon said, just go see it :)

math lau said...

it was almost triple-face. love the bachelon site, brah.

Moving Rushmore said...

The only problem I have is I can never understand why other people aren't excited to see new Pixar movies as much as I am. Great kid/adult movie with themes like individuality, destiny vs free will, and the importance of human relationship. And you don't get hit over the head with it.

Homeless in LA with Wi-Fi said...

Well, from what I read it seems like you thoroughly enjoyed the film. I have heard from six of my friends that the film was cute in parts but incredibly awful in most other parts and their opinions have deterred me from seeing it for myself.

Since four of those six friends are imaginary and the other two are a bag of popcorn and a large Coke that was left behind in the theater, I guess I can't really consider them credible sources and I will just have to take your word for it and see it the next time I can sneak into the theater.


patrick said...

Wall-E totally looks like the robot from "Short Circuit"... minus the cheesy 80's style of course

hanum said...

nice movie, good animation technology used.