A film review by Craig J. Koban
July 6, 2008
2008, G, 97 mins.
2008, G, 97 mins.
With the voices of:
ninth foray into the realm of computer animation, WALL-E, just may be
cinema’s first feel-good film about a post apocalyptic wasteland.
The first few seconds of
the film sets things up with a light and breezy allure.
On the soundtrack we hear Michael Crawford sing “Put on Your
Sunday Clothes” from HELLO, DOLLY, promising something whimsical and
carefree. However, when
director Andrew Stanton gracefully dollies the pixalized camera down and
reveals an abandoned Manhattan of the 29th Century - complete
with the rotted remnants of the Big Apples’ skyline, a hazy, smog filled
sky, and piles of garbage stacked as high as the Empire State building
littered throughout the city - the film slowly starts to lose its initial
sense of flirtatious joviality. No
Pixar film has ever opened on such a foreboding and ominous note.
details here and there, the film revels what has happened to the Earth,
now utterly vacated by humans. In the early 2100’s a global-dominated company, Buy n’
Large, supplied almost every service on Earth and eventually became the
world government. Alas, with
consumerism run completely amok, the planet became a cesspool of heavy
pollution and lethargic littering. Since
the remnants of human consumer greed reached drastic proportions, Earth
became so overrun with junk that it could no longer sustain life.
Fearing the future of the human race, Buy n’ Large sponsored a
mass exodus into space on gigantic, city sized luxury starships (the most
lavish being The Axiom). The only
beings left on Earth were robots that were programmed to gather up all of
the debris, compact them into tiny cubes and, in turn, pile them up
hundreds of feet high into skyscraper sized towers of filth.
As time passed, the recovery operation failed, and only one robot
remained intact. He would
then spend the next 700 years…alone…on Earth…trying to clean the
mess we left.
remaining robot is a WALL-E unit (an acronym for Waste Allocation
Load Lifter - Earth Class), and he is one of the
cinema's most memorable
creations. He has appearance
of a trash compactor with binoculars for eyes and looks very conspicuously like E.T. (with his wide head, short
and rotund body, and pudgy legs) and has a face that looks an awful lot
like the Johnny 5 machine form the SHORT CIRCUIT films.
His solar powered existence is one of total isolation and
loneliness. He has one
friend, a cockroach, which never seems to leave his side.
Other than that, Wall-E’s daily grind is one of mind-numbing
monotony: He travels the
city, gather sup small amounts of garbage, compacts it in his belly, and
spits out a cube sized compressed block at the other end, which
he adds to the pile that, over a long, long time, will become several
hundred stories tall.
is a very curious robot. If he finds something that looks of particular interest to
him, he grabs it and takes it back to his home.
His collection of earthly artifacts is impressive, everything from
a Pong machine, to a Rubric’s Cube, to a spork, to an i-Pod, and even to
Betamax copy of HELLO, DOLLY (amazingly, despite eight centuries of wear
and tear, that ol’ Beta machine and tape still plays perfectly). However, the tape copy of the musical is
instrumental to Wall-E’s life: He
watches it religiously, knowing it frame by frame, and even copies sound
bites from it to his internal hard drive.
Most crucially, though, the film teaches the robot to feel and,
even more importantly, to discover what it is to love someone.
microchipped soulmates are very hard to come by on Earth, especially if
you are the last known entity on it. One
day will forever change his life on Earth:
During one fateful excursion he discovers what appears to be a
small plant. He takes it and
secures it in his small stronghold. Shortly
thereafter, a large ship enters Earth’s atmosphere and lands in the
city. Out pops the smooth, aerodynamically tailored, and floating visage
of EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator).
To Wall-E, seeing her is love at first sight, but their 'meet cute'
nearly ends with his destruction: EVE
may look benign, but she packs enough fire power to take buildings down
with one shot.
Wall-E makes several unsuccessful attempts to woe EVE, and he eventually
manages to get her back to his place.
He shows her the beta movie, all of his collectables, and
introduces her to the obsession known as bubble wrap (it seems that even
highly advanced robots of the 2800’s still enjoy popping it, a sign of
universal harmony in the cosmos). Just
when things look like Wall-E will get lucky, EVE discovers the plant, and
we learn that her mission was to find any vegetation on earth and
immediately return it to the mother ship in the galaxy, The Axiom.
Wall-E, being love struck, decides to follow her back to the ship
and through the universe.
not say anything else about what happens next, other than to say that all
I have mentioned occurs within the first 30 minutes of WALL-E, and
it is certainly one of the most masterfully and perfectly executed first
thirty minutes in recent film history. Directed and co-written by Stanton and co-written by Jim
Reardon (a regular scripter on THE SIMPSONS), the two flawlessly embellish
the opening section of the film with a real heart and soul. They do this by tapping into the most primal human emotions
and by conveying them so simply and concisely.
What’s so astounding about their achievement is how it defies all
genre expectations. This is a
hybrid film: It’s part
abandoned-Earth post apocalyptic film, part satire on rampant and
frivolous consumerism and materialism gone haywire, part ecological
parable, and – at its most earnest and heart-rending – a poignant and
sweet romantic comedy about polar opposites.
The pure escapist magic that WALL-E immerses us in is primarily a
result of how well written the love story is in the film.
That fact that it resonates so deeply within viewers – and the
fact that it develops real chemistry between two artificial beings that
barely speak a syllable here and there – is the to the film’s ultimate
comedy and romance does not browbeat us; instead, it’s handled delicately. It’s clear that
the film owes a considerable debt to silent films and that Stanton and
Reardon show such a passionate appreciation for the works of Chaplin.
The first 30 minutes are virtually dialogue free, which is
paramount to allowing us to drink in the film’s gorgeously mounted
vistas and have the story between the robotic lovers simmer so well.
The high accomplishment of the animators here is how they are able
to craft such emotional complexity and dynamism out of the most subtle of
physical gestures. WALL-E is an unparallel masterpiece of humanizing characters
through body language. The
two robots have no mouths, so the real challenge here is to have them
communicate through their eyes and gestures.
The film is always fully involving just to see this pair slowly develop a relationship of dramatic
weight. Considering that the
film is able to forge such a memorably touching and affable story of love
amidst the panoramic vistas of a ravaged Earth is kind of inspiring.
technical level, WALL-E is one of the most incredibly realized visions of
the animated genre. Like the STAR WARS films, WALL-E is a voraciously generous
film to stare and gaze at with loving awe and wonder: The detail level here is enormous – there is something
occupying every frame of this film. The
expansiveness of the ecologically ruined cityscapes have an eerie cadence
to them, creating such a impressively tactile quality in everything Wall-E
comes in contact with (compared to Pixar’s first feature, TOY STORY,
WALL-E is an indescribable quantum leap of the technical boundaries of the
genre). Even more discretely
powerful and invigorating is the film’s lush and atmospheric sound
design (provided by Ben Burtt, who created the auditory universe of the STAR
WARS sextet, and will certainly get an Oscar for this next year).
The film is a symphony of sonic delights, and Burtt manages to
achieve the impossible twice by giving two faceless robots (the first
being R2-D2) a soul and personality primarily through innovative sound
design. Without a doubt,
WALL-E is a deeply potent and impeccably concocted audio-visual paradise.
as the first 30 minutes of the film are exemplary and faultlessly
orchestrated, the film that emerges during its remaining 60-plus minutes
is not. Once the action
leaves Earth, so does much of the film’s simplistically customized
entertainment value. The real
delight of WALL-E is its opening sequences, which essentially is a silent
movie told with images. The
truly daring choice here would have been to construct an entire film collectively out of these moments, so it’s somewhat of a decided
disappointment to have a human element occupy the film’s final two
thirds. What makes WALL-E so
ethereally beautiful and dramatically striking was its lack of a human
presence. The film is
still a euphoric thrill ride to sit through in its final two acts, and it
never lets up on being a gloriously inspired visual odyssey, but I think
that if Stanton and company resisted the temptation to take the characters
into space and beyond and kept them on earth, then WALL-E could have had
maintained such a transcending inquisitiveness and daring originality. As soon as we meet the humanoid characters, they’re almost
a curious distraction and are seemingly never more compelling than two
lead robots characters.
stunning and jaw-droppingly sumptuous experience highlighting the best of
the silent film and sci-fi milieu alongside telling a love story of real
heart and never-ending spirit, WALL-E is an unqualified triumph.
As a pure visual journey, the film is beset by endlessly
imaginative and decadently simulated imagery.
The film’s emotional pulse is its tiny and adorable robotic
character that traverses along a story that manages to encompass the
melancholy and sadness of loneliness, the taxing nature of isolation, a
cautionary tale of wasteful human consumption, and a Caplin-esque fable
about first love. Few
dystopian tales of the future have rarely been so inspirational and
rousing, and perhaps a bit too much so in the film's final minutes
(question: why would humanity want to leave a life of exotic luxury in
space to come back to a hell-hole polluted garbage dump that is Earth?).
Yes, the remaining of the film’s parts fails to qualify itself as
being as great as it’s opening segments, but WALL-E is an astonishing
feat of cutting edge 3D-CGI artifice and wizardry.
Perhaps even better…the film has heart. In an age of soulless, lackluster, CGI-laden summer popcorn spectacles, which place higher importance on technical craft over human emotion, WALL-E proves how you can effectively homogenize the two.
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