– Summary –
Director : Andrew Standon
Cast : Voices of John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver, Special vocal effects by Ben Burtt.
Year of Release : 2008
Length : 98 Minutes
Synopsis: A lonely waste disposal robot left on Earth when Humanity evacuated discovers love, saves mankind, and watches Hello, Dolly!.
Review . Pixar again proves that they have no equal. Staggeringly good character driven escapade is filled with whimsy, romance and adventure.
When you look at animated films, particularly the more recent computer generated wares Hollywood puts out, the likes of Toy Story, Monsters Inc, and The Invisibles have stood tall in the test of time and repeated viewings. The gold standard of this art-form, Pixar Animation Studios, have achieved near perfection with their latest creation, Wall-E. Wall-E, as a film, is simply stunning in both its simplicity and its execution.
By now we have come to expect a lot from Pixar, whom many regard as one of the greatest animation studios to exist since the dawn of Disney. Their track record for success has become the stuff of legends, with monster hit after monster hit dwarfing all comers (except for runaway hit Shrek & its tiresome sequels) in both quality of animation and storytelling prowess. After recent films like Cars and Ratatouille were less successful than their predecessors (financially) the claws were out for the studio, with naysayers prophesying the demise of quality storytelling in order to make a buck. Cars was perhaps a little flat for most audiences, although the merchandising for that film certainly ensured it was profitable. Unpronounceable Ratatouille was a little more of a dint in Pixar’s sheen, as the film bombed (by Pixar standards, that is) to be the least successful of all their films. While less commercially successful, both these films still had the Pixar stamp, and were utterly magical for their achievements in the art-form. Cars told a story well, with flashy visuals and a certain degree of pep that was missing from many other animated films. Ratatouille was a superb story, with some of the most gorgeous visuals ever achieved in a film, ever. It’s “rat in a restaurant” story may have had some viewers offside, but you cannot deny the story, characters and visuals in that film are all first rate.
Now, with Wall-E, we have something of a return to form (it never really dropped off, to be honest, comparatively speaking) for the studio, as one of it’s greatest creations comes to the screen.
Directed by Andrew Stanton, Wall-E tells the story of a small waste allocation unit (Wall-E) who, left alone on a garbage-filled Earth for 700 years, is the last of his kind and resigned to try and fulfil his programming….. to clean up the Earth for people to re-inhabit. You see, humankind left Earth long into the past, after their lazy and decadent ways prevented life from existing on the planet. Garbage, piled as high as the tallest skyscraper, covers almost every square inch of the planet, a haze of satellites orbits the globe, and our remains, the robots cleanup crew, have long since malfunctioned, broken down, or stopped regardless. All that is left is a single Wall-E unit, and his friend, a small cockroach.
One bright, shiny day, a spacecraft lands, and leaves behind an EVE probe, designed to seek out new life in order for humans to return. Humans, we learn, have left on a giant spacecraft, named Axiom, to live a life of utter comfort whilst waiting for the Earth to be cleaned up. EVE, beginning her programming immediately upon landing, discovers Wall-E, but disregards him due to the fact he is not a living organism.
Wall-E, left alone for millennia, falls in love with EVE, although his attentions are, at first, ignored. Of course, during the course of the film, EVE and Wall-E discover their true feelings for each other, and try desperately to save a small plant EVE discovers hidden behind a mound of garbage.
To say Wall-E is a magnificent achievement is an understatement. I simply cannot restate this fact often enough to make it more clear. The first twenty minutes of the film are almost void of human language, save for snippets of a Hello Dolly, a video Wall-E watches over and over. This allows the film to reside purely on a physical level, with emotion and feeling drawn simply from the actions of the characters, rather than overt dialogue.
Infinitely expressive, Wall-E retains a Number 5 aura (from Short Circuit, 80’s fans) with his emotive eyes and strangely expressive vocalisations. He almost is, truly, alive. Yet the character still resides in a world within the film where he is simply a robot, bound by the constraints of a robot and possessing all the limitations of one. He requires recharging, breaks, and gets rusty. In other words, the gap between Wall-E and humans is not that wide.
It’s almost refreshing as a viewer to sit in front of a screen and not hear words spoken for such a long period of time. You get to soak in the visuals, which are simply superb, and digest them without having to absorb explanatory dialogue throughout. And when our characters do finally converse, both with themselves and with each other, their language is almost baby-talk by comparison to our own. They are not robot voiced in the traditional way. Ben Burtt, the sound designer for films such as the Star Wars prequels, designed the voice for Wall-E from multiple sources, none of which were human. EVE, voiced by Elissa Knight, and again using modifications by Burtt, is perhaps the more human sounding of the robotic characters; the eloquence Knight provides with her voice for this character is emotional and well done.
Much has been made of the “message” within the film; that is, consumerism run amok will end humanity, as we degenerate into lazy, consumer driven slobs with little motivation for anything physically active. To be honest, one could deduct a mark off the film for this near sledgehammer-subtle moral fable, however, director Stanton took great pains to declare that was not his intent, it was simply a way of telling the story of the last robot on Earth. However you look at it, the message is undoubtedly clear, and you can either like it or lump it. Still, it does make for some wonderful vignettes, such as the Captain of the Axiom staggering to his feet and trying to cross the bridge to the tune of Also Sprach Zarathustra, in a wonderful homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The autopilot of the Axiom, a robot steering wheel, has an eye of the same appearance as HAL of Kubrick’s masterpiece. Subtle references abound, and most adults will have a great time trying to spot them all.
The action, the violence, is all clean enough for younger eyes, in keeping with the Pixar tradition, although one moment during the final act, when the Axiom tilts to one side and all our hover-chair-bound human occupants begin to slide across the floor to imminent death is perhaps the most upsetting for the kiddies. But as with all animated films, the ending is pure candy for kiddies, with everything wrapped up neatly for our heroes to continue on into the sunset.
It goes without saying that Wall-E has yet again (if that were indeed possible) raised the bar of what Pixar are capable of achieving. Their run of success has yet to be equaled, and not a single one of their films has flopped. This in itself is a staggering achievement, yet the same can be said of the Star Wars prequels. Where Pixar and George Lucas differ is that Pixar are capable of sensing where a story will go to organically, rather than try and force characters to make out-of-character decisions and illogical steps to further a pre-ordained narrative. And this, for one, is why I think Pixar is so successful. As they always say, the story comes first. If it doesn’t suit the story, or move the story along, then it gets removed. Perhaps Lucas should have taken that idea into his brain before penning the ridiculous Attack Of The Clones.
Wall-E is simply one of the best film I have seen this year. It’s fun, it’s message is clear (perhaps a little overblown, but hey, if that’s the films only failing, who cares!) and the characters will remain in our collective memory for generations to come. Pixar have reinvented the computer-generated-animation-wheel yet again, and proven to us that good storytelling will always triumph over green-screen based tripe that cannot hope to astound and awe us with a lacklustre story. Wall-E is a film that’s almost so perfect you’d have to develop another category above perfection just to encapsulate what this film does to you as you watch it. It’s like being pummeled in the face by a velvet lovemonkey. Which is not a bad thing.