Sunday, June 29, 2008


While Wall-E is a feast for the eyes and ears, it's, first and foremost, a treat of good, old-fashioned filmmaking. If you see it in the theater, you will undoubtedly be bombarded with previews for other 3D computer-animated films featuring animals that scream, jump about, and act as obnoxious as the four-year-old sitting next to you. Though they leave me with the impression of having lukewarm high-fructose corn syrup drizzled onto my head, I know that these films have their place and provide some measure of enjoyment for undiscerning children and obnoxious adults (I, myself, was quite fond of the wretched Transformers: the Movie at a young age and am glad to say I grew out of it). Everything in these trailers is played big and loud--all the better to milk laughs from the audience--so, it's doubly refreshing when the feature attraction begins and nobody talks for a long, long time. Wall-E develops its story and characters with a minimum of dialogue, relying, instead, on the much more satisfying (and hundreds of years old) convention of editing meaningful bits of visual information together and letting the audience fit the puzzle pieces together.

Whenever I see a film use these tried-and-true cinematic conventions (usually it's when watching a well-made silent film, but there are other modern examples), I feel as if my brain is being flossed of the detritus of more pandering, shallow entertainments found on TV and in the multiplex. It's no different here; the opening passages of Wall-E are delightful for the elegant and earnest way they ladle out the exposition for the the titular main character and the world he inhabits. Wall-E is set in a distant future where the Earth has become a giant landfill, uninhabitable due to the heaps and heaps of garbage wrought by human industry. Humanity itself has taken to the stars in a giant spaceship named The Axiom, leaving the Earth to the care of a robotic cleanup crew. Wall-E is the last surviving member of these robots, and, some 700 years after the evacuation, he's still dutifully following his programming. Every day he gathers garbage, compacts it into cubes, and stacks the cubes into giant piles, some as tall as skyscrapers. As he undertakes the Herculean task of cleaning the Earth, it becomes clear that this robot has more to his existence than work. He has a penchant for collecting; while sifting through the garbage, something strikes his fancy--an egg beater, a Rubik's Cube, and, one day, a single stalk of plant life poking through the muck--and he takes it to his home where he places it amongst other treasured possessions. One of these is a VHS tape of an old musical, and, as he watches scenes of romance unfold, it becomes clear that this is one lonely robot. He yearns to dance and hold hands with a paramour of his own. All of this is revealed with an expert eye towards efficiency. The details of the world are tucked into the frame as we watch Wall-E on a day's work, until slowly the entire picture is clear. The animation is gorgeous to look at and evokes such a powerful feeling of loneliness and isolation, that it's almost a bummer when another robot named EVE shows up from outer space.

EVE is a probe, sent to find signs of life. At first she's as oblivious to Wall-E as he is smitten, focusing only on fulfilling her mission. But soon, they meet, strike up a budding romance, and, just as it seems Wall-E may have found a dance partner, they are swept away to the deliriously satiric confines of The Axiom. It's here that the film (inevitably) finds its way to a more conventional, yet incredibly endearing Chaplin-esque story rife with sentiment and good-natured comedy. If the second half of the film doesn't quite live up to the timeless, soulful quality of the opening moments of Wall-E's solitude or his courtship with EVE, it's nevertheless suffused with wit. As Wall-E begins to explore The Axiom, he finds that the humans onboard are entirely dependent on robots. They can't move around without assistance from robotic chairs, feed, much like babies, from cups with giant straws provided for them, and live lives dictated by well-timed advertisements ("Blue is the new Red"). They continuously watch television, and they don't even seem to know where they are or the history of how they got there. It's not so much different than watching people in a shopping mall on a Sunday afternoon. It's not the most brilliant or inventive satire of modern times I've ever seen, but it's certainly funny and has a deafening ring of truth to it. Wall-E, bumbling through this world, brings with him the promise of a real life--a home planet with work and problems and, above all, plants. It isn't long before the captain of the ship, delighted to learn of his history, is up all night asking the computer to tell him everything there is to know about this little planet named Earth. Even hoedowns. This leads to a revolution, of sorts, as passengers aboard The Axiom awaken to a larger purpose and reclaim their dominance over the rigid, unbending automatons that run their lives.

There's an underlying message here, of course, about waste and the ecological responsibility of the common man and moving beyond mere survival to something more fulfilling, but, thankfully, the movie avoids the hypocrisy of having a Disney film hammer home a didactic screed about the horrors of disposable junk. Wall-E is more interested in telling the story it wants to tell, and it does this with a deftness that looks deceptively easy. It's pretty much a perfect film, one that accomplishes everything it sets out to do. It scrapes the surface of greatness at times, but it never quite achieves this. I find this is often the case with films as tightly constructed and written as Wall-E; it's like they're powered by clock springs and, as such, there's delight and surprise and magic, but not enough spontaneity or, if you will, life to them. This is just a quibble, though, and a very minor one at that. This is a wonderful film. It earns its laughter and sentiment through quiet, thoughtful honesty about its characters. You will believe a robot can love.

Would Make a Good Double Feature with: Modern Times

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Anonymous said...

I disagree with your summation that this is not a great film but such is the nature of the viewing experience. Wall-E, in my eyes, not only achieves greatness - it capers on the summit for a bit and then leaps to an even higher level.

This is as close to a perfect film as i have seen in a long time. I will agree with you, however, that the first part had a strength that the second ( but necessary) part could not sustain.

patrick said...

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

zora_f. said...

need-see. can't wait! i think i'm in love with brad bird.

btw, congratulations to the, um, promotion!

Watch Wall-E movie said...

Seriously I am in love with Brad Bird. I can't wait more for this film..I heard lot about this film. It is going superb. I will watch it tonight only.

watch movies said...

I missed chance to watch this movie in theatre but really Wall-E is an excellent movie and redefines the old filmmaking style..I am sure you like this movie as it has everything that you want in aa movie