“WALL-E” world

image The opening 30 minutes of Disney/Pixar’s new film “WALL-E” reminded me a lot about another science-fiction film set in a dystopian future: “I Am Legend.”  In both movies the protagonists essentially wander the streets of a desolate city alone, doing what they can to stay alive while throwing all their energy toward the accomplishment of a Sisyphusian task (one compacts and organizes the world’s garbage, one searches for the cure to a lethal virus that has eliminated 99 percent of the population).  Both movies feature male characters whose lives are irrevocably changed by the entrance of a female into their world, an interesting variation on the Adam and Eve story.  But whereas “I Am Legend” was nearly undone by its third act, “WALL-E” uses it to soar to a grand finish, in large part due to the momentum generated by those astounding first minutes.

“WALL-E” is not just a cautionary tale about global consumerism run amok (though it is that), or a movie about a cute little robot who looks like either a distant cousin of R2-D2 from “Star Wars” or the younger brother of Johnny Five from “Short Circuit” (though I can see the resemblance).  It’s also one of the most genuine love stories I’ve ever seen, one of the few that nails it perfectly from a storytelling perspective.  You may be amazed to discover just how much empathy you end up feeling for these metallic objects as they roll, whirl, fly, and dance across the screen.  I know that I was often moved tremendously by what I saw on display here.

I want to avoid saying too much in order to preserve the film’s surprises.  I do note that there are several thematic undercurrents at work in this film.  One of the most powerful of these is that of overcoming one’s programming to achieve a greater good, whether it be in the form of hard-wired instructions on a circuit board or of habits that have gone unchecked and unchallenged for centuries.  Somewhat related to this theme is one of awaking from a deep sleep and realizing that what was constantly before one’s face was obscuring one’s view of a much grander reality.  By the end of the film, those characters who have overcome their programming—awakened from the malaise of mere existence—are the ones who triumph.  There is a great spiritual lesson contained here, particularly for Latter-day Saints who remember Lehi’s exhortation for his wayward sons to “Awake!”

I found it interesting that there’s a fair amount of live-action footage embedded within the film.  I was reminded of the little notice at the end of “Ratatouille” in which the filmmakers confidently proclaimed that none of what we had seen was generated by motion capture or any other performance or animation shortcuts.  Yet here we are a year later with a new Pixar film containing several minutes of flesh-and-blood actors performing their scenes.  So what gives?  In thinking about this, I’ve concluded that this was a storytelling decision, not a gimmick.  Without giving away too much of the movie (I don’t know how much you know, or how much Disney’s own ads have given away), I note that the animators rendered much of WALL-E’s world with breathtaking realism, surpassing anything we’ve ever seen from the studio before.  But that realism breaks down when we enter another “world” in the film’s second act, and the difference between the real-life actors in the archival footage and the characters we see in the present-day timeline of the film is meant to illustrate just how dramatically they have de-evolved, almost to a protoplasmic state.  (The level of detail in these characters is not even quite up to the level of “The Incredibles” from four years ago; again, I believe this was a conscious storytelling decision, not an indicator that the animators spent so much time giving WALL-E’s world a photorealistic look they couldn’t bring the rest of the movie up to a similar polish.)

This is the best science-fiction movie I’ve seen since “2001,” and it does wear its Kubrickian influences on its sleeve.  Anyone even superficially familiar with that earlier film will recognize the HAL-like persona (and unblinking red eye) of a major character in this one.  We even get several measures of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” when a particular character makes a major developmental leap.  It also features the most blatant use of the “A113” Easter egg of any of the Pixar movies to date.  (Read the Wikipedia entry for more on this clever little in-joke.)

To the film’s everlasting credit, it features very little intelligible dialogue outside of WALL-E’s realm.  The story is so compelling it really doesn’t need much talk at all – another nod to “2001.”  In fact, when the dialogue does start flying in fast and furious in the film’s second half, it’s almost tedious to listen to.  As an audience, we long to return to the robots and their quaint clankety-clank sounds.  I believe that this too is by design.  The robots become more human than their overseers.  It does make one reconsider just who the real “winners” are by film’s end.  In whose place would you rather be?  I’ll take the antiquated waste collector’s.

I could go on further (and probably should in order to justify my final score), but I’ll let this rest for now.  Sandwich all I’ve said with a wonderfully inventive epilogue that will bring a smile to even the casual student of art history, and a hilarious short film before the movie (another Pixar tradition) featuring a magician and a none-too-cooperative stage rabbit, and you have some of the finest two hours you could ever spend in a movie theater, or in front of any screen for that matter.  The year’s not quite half over, but once again Pixar has released the movie to beat for best film of the year.


3 Responses to ““WALL-E” world”

  1. you sure are a movie buff! :)

  2. Nice. I definitely keep you in mind and watch for reviews when movies come out. Steve and I should really go more often.

    By the way, I’m giving you guys the Arte y Pico award for your blog. Come by my food blog to pick it up :) perrysplate.blogspot.com

  3. With Pixar, can there be any doubt? Nine trips to the plate in the last thirteen years. Seven home runs, a triple (Cars) and a double (A Bug’s Life), and not a single strikeout in the bunch. Can you name any other studio batting 1.000 at this stage in their history?

    Ever since Finding Nemo, Pixar movies have been Day One “appointment viewing” for me. (With WALL-E, it was Day Two as well!) They haven’t let me down yet, and with the slate of films they’re preparing to release over the next five years, I can’t imagine they ever will.

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