Monday, July 7, 2008



After what I felt was a genre and craft high-point with the 2006 "Ratatouille" comes the last of the original Pixar concepts, directed by Andrew Stanton, whose "Finding Nemo" was, itself, the craft high-point for its time. By this time, the work of the Pixar pixilators is so assured that, really, all they have to do is show that they can do variations of tone, and they do that with "Wall•E," the little trash-compactor that could.

This charming film starts out on a barren, blasted planet Earth, devoid of all life, save for one cockroach and a mobile trash-compactor, whose sole preoccupation for the last 700 years (when humans vacated the planet on elephantine space-cruise-liners) is to pick up the trash, scrunch it into cubes, then make big piles of said cubes, like rusting ancient Aztec ruins, dwarfing their man-made counter-parts, city skyscrapers. Wall•E is apparently the only Waste Allocation Load Lifter (Earth-Class) left, stripping others of his type for parts, and he works his dutiful existence scrunching by day, and collecting odd bits of human jetsam, and perpetually watching an old copy of "Hello Dolly!," and yearning for companionship, before backing-up onto his rotating work-bench, and rocking himself to sleep-mode.

It is a melancholy vision of Hell, not unlike the empty, echoing, New York of "
I Am Legend," but with pelting dust-storms and no signs of life, not even encroaching vegetation. One watches a fast scene of Wall•E giving chase in a rubble-strewn long-shot and can't help marvelling how far the artistry has come from "Toy Story." Not only do things look photo-realistic, but there's also a fine atmospheric haze over the scene, giving it life and depth.

The film is also rich in satire, with the future Earth a global economy dominated by the
BnL (Buy n' Large) Stores, which have control of everything. The human populations are adrift in ocean-liner-type space barges, that might be called "The Lard Boat" as the human passengers have become infantile all-consuming non-producing blobs in floating lounge-chairs while television screens perpetually float six inches in front of their faces.

It is funny, touching, and definitely dark in its view of the future, and Wall•E finds himself the cog in the wheel for a robot and human revolution against mechanical Masters eager to maintain the Status Quo.

Two quibbles, nothing alarming enough to distract from any enjoyment of the film, but still things to ponder:
Ben Burtt provides the voice of Wall•E as well as the sounds of all the other things in the film as sound designer and mixer, and he does the same thing here that he's done with the recent re-mixed "Star Wars" films, which is prioritize mixing the sound effects over the music, thereby drowning out Thomas Newman's quirky, enjoyable pastiche score--let him sound-design and mix his work, sure, but keep out of the final mix; and, one wishes that Pixar had the scrap to end the film on a minor chord, rather than it's crowd-and-kid-pleasing major one. If they had left the fate of one of the characters ambiguous, Pixar would have had their own version of Chaplin's bittersweet ending for "City Lights."

These are small quibbles, and certainly don't detract from the mammoth effort and resulting entertainment that keeps coming out of "Pixar," which is becoming the only real sure-bet in Hollywood.

"Wall•E" is a full-price ticket on recyclable paper.


John said...

Good write up! My slight annoyance was the unanimated Fred Willard scenes. It was intentional I guess (everything from 700 years ago is live action, which is the only way they could work the Hello Dolly footage in) but I think it was a mistake... Maybe because I don't like Fred Willard. >:(

Yojimbo_5 said...

Seems rather conservative to me.

I'm sure you'll be disappointed by Stanton's planned "John Carter of Mars" feature will also be a "mixed media" film.

And Fred Willard is hilarious, IMO. Sometimes he mis-fires, but so does every comedian. He can be the best thing in a movie--"Best of Show," for instance. Maybe you don't get his sense of the absurd. ;)