Archive for July 8th, 2008


What I’m Watching: WALL•E



My brother, sister, and I have long had a real love affair with Pixar studios. Ever since 1995’s Toy Story, the animation house has proven itself to be a consistent house of imagination, beautiful artwork, and true innovation in filmmaking. Other studios — including Disney itself — immediately jumped on the CGI bandwagon and turned out mostly pale, soulless imitators. They thought that it was the tool of the computer that made Pixar’s films great. In truth, the people behind Pixar understood — as Walt Disney himself understood — that the story must come first. It doesn’t matter how dazzling the computer effects are or how realistic you can render hair blowing in the wind. You have to have a good story and characters to love, or the film won’t amount to anything. Pixar knows that, and while the three of us may sometimes debate just which of Pixar’s films is the best, one thing we all agree on is that even the least of Pixar’s movies (A Bug’s Life) is better than almost anything else at your local cineplex.

The point of this rather lengthy introduction is that I was really excited to finally see WALL•E on Saturday. Mike, Kenny, and I caught a late show with very few kids (I love the fact that great movies for kids exists, but let’s be honest, sometimes you want to be able to enjoy a movie without as many interruptions), and we sat down to watch the movie my brother now calls his new favorite Pixar film. Like all of Pixar’s features, the movie was preceded by a short. (This is something else I love about Pixar — come on, Hollywood, bring back the animated short!) Presto was a film about a stage magician feuding, in front of his audience, with his hungry rabbit assistant. This is a great slapstick piece, extremely funny — every bit as good as an old-school Bugs Bunny cartoon. I’ve already got the DVD of The Pixar Shorts on my shelf, and I just hope they manage to find enough material to put out a second volume sooner than 15 years from now, because I really want to own this short.

Then we sat back for the feature: WALL•E. The star of this film, WALL•E himself, is the last functioning robot on a planet Earth that has been abandoned, left in mounds of trash. Over 700 years ago the planet was choked with so much garbage that humanity abandoned its homeworld to the robots left behind to clean it up. After all this time, though, only WALL•E and his little roach buddy remain. WALL•E’s life changes when a ship arrives and drops off a new robot: a sleek, egg-shaped female designated EVE. While EVE carries out a search of the ruined city for something very precious, WALL•E begins falling in love with her.

The love story, the real heart of this movie, is absolutely magnificent. WALL•E’s emotions are so clearly painted on the screen that you find yourself aching for the little robot to just touch EVE’s hand. EVE begins as a rather stoic, determined character, but WALL•E’s charm soon melts her heart just as surely as it does that of the audience. Much is made of the fact that the first half of this movie is largely free of dialogue. In fact, except for the occasional warble of WALL•E’s name, a short snippet of an ancient press conference, or the ubiquitous music from the film version of Hello, Dolly! (which is surprisingly important and used just flawlessly), there’s almost no talking at all for 40 minutes or so. It doesn’t matter. The characters are so fluid and so expressive that you simply never notice that they aren’t talking.

However, the fact that there is so little dialogue makes this a movie that you have to really watch. You can’t just “have it on.” I’ve “watched” dozens of movies while doing other things — surfing the Internet, writing a column, playing a game — some sort of activity that diverts my attention from the film itself. Sadly, with most movies there isn’t enough substance for this to really be a detriment. But with WALL•E, the film demands your full attention. You need to look at the screen to understand what’s happening, and perhaps even more importantly, to forge the connection with its characters that makes every Pixar film the work of art that it is. Erin asked me if her niece, who will be three years old in October, would sit through the movie. It all depends on if she — like I — manages to fall in love with the robot in the first five minutes. Once that connection is forged, you’ll never miss the talking. You love WALL•E, you love EVE — heck, this is the first time I’ve ever been upset when it seemed like a roach was going to get squashed.

In addition to the amazing characters, the story itself really is a fine science fiction tale. The outer space scenes are magnificent, beautifully animated, and dazzling. The story of the humans and what happens to them is a gentle satire of a consumeristic society that gets the point across without being heavy-handed or preachy. (One of the great ironies of this film is that Wal-Mart is going to make billions of dollars selling merchandise for a movie that essentially blames the company for the end of the world.) The casting is good too — John Ratzenberger (who has done a voice in every Pixar film to date) has a beefier role than he usually does, and Kathy Najimy has a nice part as well. Including Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the ship’s computer is a great nod to sci-fi fans, and Fred Willard in the live-action scenes is as funny as ever.

Did I like this movie? Brother, I loved it. Not only do I agree that this is Pixar’s best film to date, it’s hands-down the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. This is, very simply, an achievement. This is a film worthy of the overused “event” label. I’d see it again in a second, and I’ll be first in line to buy the DVD when it hits.

July 2008

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