Like a lot of us, the little robot
gets up every morning, gets himself together and goes out
to perform a job that sometimes seems overwhelming, if not
outright meaningless. Yet he finds ways to fill himself,
literally. Gathering bits of junk that catch his interest,
he stores them away in an Igloo container for when he returns
home to categorize and catalog them. Then he settles down
to watch a little television - an old VHS of Hello Dolly
-- before shutting down for the night.
In short, WALL*E turns out to be
very human after all. Alone on Earth for almost 700 years,
apparently the last of his kind functioning, this rolling
garbage compactor yearns for meaning, understanding and
most importantly, companionship.
Pixar's latest film continues the
studio's tradition of pushing the boundaries of film language,
in some ways by hearkening back to idioms lost decades ago.
Much of WALL*E owes a debt to the great silent comedians
Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, with Director Andrew
Stanton staging sequences with a similar eye to those giants.
Though it ties in to the musical number "Put On Your Sunday
Clothes," WALL*E using a hubcap as a hat sure makes him
even look like Keaton - if the Great Stoneface had been
square, squat and rusted metal.
The Earth has been abandoned due
to overconsumption. Life still exists, as WALL*E keeps a
cockroach as a pet. And Stanton even makes the cockroach
adorable without being cloying. Everything seeks community,
In some ways, the movie also borrows
from the fun but vaguely disturbing sci fi films of the
seventies. Stanton's abandoned Earth has that vibe of discovering
the losses we're bringing upon ourselves," like Logan's
Run and Silent Running. And like those films,
WALL*E offers hope above all else.
Its push, however, comes in making
this animation look photo-realistic. The clips from Hello
Dolly are completely live-action, and a non-animated
Fred Willard makes a brief cameo as the long-dead CEO of
Buy N Large, the corporation that swallowed the Earth. During
the first act, WALL*E's world becomes completely believable
When everything turns upside down
and he encounters the cute probe EVE, it's a little jarring
because of how clean and smooth she is, but even that settles
down. In the second half, characters do appear that hew
more closely to the traditional Pixar look, but it's not
as jarring as it could be, because the story has become
so absorbing. And yet, it's so simple.
Yes, there's an environmental message
if you look for it, and you don't have to look very hard.
It's just dressing, though, over the recognizable story
of a lonely man - or rather, robot -- wanting to find out
why he exists. Children might not get that, but they'll
still be touched and thrilled as the underdog nebbish overcomes
all obstacles for that elusive spark (somewhat literal,
too) of love.
It's an amazing achievement, especially
when you realize how loud it is with its quiet. Like many
Pixar films, the amount of detail is astounding, and I have
no doubt that each and every viewing (at least once more
in a theater is a must) will reveal some new level of storytelling
in the background.
Former R2-D2 Ben Burtt provides
the voice of WALL*E, so it really shouldn't be surprising
how affecting his performance is, but this one knocks over
the R2 unit and puts it back on the shelf. An old Macintosh
voice program actually serves as a starship's autopilot,
and it's disturbingly effective.
The few human voices that do get
used are - well, let it be a surprise. It was a challenge
going in trying to figure out how staple John Ratzenberger
would show up, but it's probably the least shoehorned role
he's had for Pixar since his Toy Story debut.
Just see it. Right now, WALL*E stands as my favorite
movie of the year. In a season loaded with fun, Pixar took
the time to add a layer of care.
Pixar introduces a new short with this, called Presto, about
a magician and his hungry rabbit. It's got the anarchic
spirit of a classic Bugs/Daffy confrontation, a fun surprise
and slight contrast in tone before the main feature. But
dang, it's funny.)