Friday, July 18, 2008


To celebrate my half birthday yesterday, I went to see this latest Pixar production. I wasn't enthralled when I saw the trailer, but WALL*E has gotten rave reviews and I had a free movie ticket. What the heck, huh?

It turns out the raves were well-deserved. To be sure, WALL*E does look an awful lot like Number 5 from Short Circuit, sounds a bit like R2-D2 and acts like my all time favorite alien, E.T., but the story crafted by writer/director Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter is both a sweet love story and a warning about our overconsumption and wastefulness.

The set-up is that 700 hundred years ago, after completely trashing our planet and the upper atmosphere surrounding it, humans abandoned Earth for an unending space cruise vacation while thousands of little Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class robots clean up the mess. Years after his fellow trash compactors have worn out and died, WALL*E continues his task--day-in and day-out.

Until one day a spaceship leaves a Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (aka "EVE") probe on Earth, and our steadfast little hero falls in "love." Of course EVE looks an awful lot like an iPod or something designed by Apple with her sleek and smooth alabaster exterior. Actually, there's a lot of Apple "product placement" in the animation. It's pretty amusing...With a persona that's both graceful and deadly (coincidentally very much like Angelina Jolie's character in Wanted...), EVE captures WALL*E attention--and his heart. His mundane existence is forever changed as his love--or perhaps loneliness--leads him on the adventure of a lifetime.

The animation is--as always--first-rate. The attention to detail and small touches are sublime. For example, WALL*E's penchant for collecting things and bringing them back to his storage unit where he sorts them into categories. A "spork" confuses the little robot who's not sure whether to place it with the spoons? The forks? Until he finally settles on placing it in the middle. It's a nifty little moment that says volumes about the character. The creative team at Pixar manages to make the character and story seem new, despite pulling influences and inspiration from numerous other films. In addition to nods to E.T., Short Circuit and Star Wars, WALL*E is indebted to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and even a tip of the hat to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Unlike many Pixar movies, WALL*E is very light on dialogue and as such doesn't spotlight well-known actors like Eddie Murphy or Cameron Diaz doing the voiceover. Fred Willard appears in a non-animated cameo and John Ratzenberger and Kathy Najimy continue their character voice work and Sigourney Weaver's sonorous tones are heard as the ship's computer--but this movie isn't about witty, snappy banter like in previous Pixar movies like Toy Story. It's about creating a singularly enchanting character whose quirks and unwavering devotion capture our hearts and imagination.

Oddly enough, WALL*E is more human and humane than the biological beings portrayed in the film. We have an ongoing fascination with attributing human qualities to machines--whether it's naming our car and pleading with him/her to start up on a cold day, cursing our computer for its wicked attempts to ruin our life when it crashes or endowing socks, underwear or jewelry with the capacity to bring us luck. Animating the inanimate.

To be continued...

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