Director : Andrew Stanton
Screenplay : Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Ben Burtt (WALL•E / M-O), Elissa Knight (Eve), Jeff Garlin (Captain), Fred Willard (Shelby Forthright, BnL CEO), John Ratzenberger (John), Kathy Najimy (Mary), Sigourney Weaver (Ship’s Computer)
Pixar’s WALL•E so thoroughly embodies the greatest pleasures the movies have to offer--heart, humor, action, emotion, not to mention grand visual sweep that can only come from a genuine sense of vision--that it goes directly into the sublime. A daring computer-animated fable about loneliness, emotional connection, and the sad fact that we’re destroying our planet (how’s that for an ambitious triumvirate?), WALL•E is a rare joy, the kind of movie that tugs at your heart while tickling your eyes and stimulating your mind. How good is it? It made me feel sorry for a cockroach--multiple times.
Of course, said cockroach is only a secondary character, a squeaking sidekick to the titular robot, whose name stands for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter--Earth Class.” WALL•E is a squat, rattling critter, formed out of a cube set on triangular off-road treads and a binocular-shaped head at the tip of an extended neck. When the film opens, he appears to be the last of his kind still functioning on Earth, which was deserted by humankind 700 years earlier when it became little more than a planetary garbage dump. WALL•E’s job is the monotonous task of organizing all the garbage by crushing it into perfectly symmetrical cubes and then stacking them into piles that eventually dwarf the city’s skyscrapers.
The film’s opening’s half hour or so is virtually wordless, ushering us into WALL•E’s cruddy world of smog, trash piles, and abject solitude (the digital artists at Pixar have truly outdone themselves in creating photorealistic vistas of visually stunning garbage, which gives the film a strangely intoxicating beauty built entirely out of ugliness). WALL•E goes about his daily routines, which are broken up by his odd relationship with the aforementioned cockroach and his penchant for collecting interesting artifacts--garden gnomes, cigarette lights, jewelry boxes--which he then neatly organizes in his makeshift home. At night, he watches the same romantic scene from Hello Dolly! (1969) over and over again, his large eyes taking in the images while he imaginatively holds his own hand, a sign of both his intense longing for companionship and his complete isolation.
Should I remind myself here that we’re talking about an animated robot?
The anthropomorphic effectiveness of WALL•E’s character is all the more powerful for being almost entirely visual. Given the excessively verbal nature of most animated films, it seems that the lack of dialogue has given Pixar’s artists a newfound freedom to explore visual expression in a way that few films allow. Aside from various grunts, squeaks, and squeals, WALL•E speaks a grand total of about 10 words in the entire movie, and half of those are simply saying his own name (sound designer Ben Burtt, who was also responsible for all those clever droid noises in the Star Warsfilms, supplies the voice). Thus, our understanding of WALL•E is borne entirely of watching him go about his business, which he does with a humorously touching mix of dedication, efficiency, and clumsiness that turns him into one of the most endearing and memorable movie characters of the past year. His genuine innocence and sweetness avoids being cloying primarily because these values are embodied in what literally amounts to a rusted trash compactor on wheels. He’s the kind of underdog you can’t help but adore.
WALL•E’s solitude is finally broken by the unexpected arrival of Eve (Elissa Knight), a sleek, egg-shaped robot whose smooth form and shiny appearance mark her as both a technological advancement over the clunky, rusty WALL•E and an object of his immediate and intense adoration. Unfortunately for him, she has the tendency to blast anything that moves, but that is put to rest once she gets to know him a bit, especially after he shows her his treasure trove of found objects, each of which he presents with a touching blend of pride and modesty (he’s like a little kid trying to impress the new girl at school).
When WALL•E hitches a ride with Eve’s return vessel, he is taken to a huge starship millions of miles away that serves as the current resting place for the human race--literally. In the movie’s second half, WALL•E shifts into deliberately didactic science fiction mode by presenting humanity’s grotesque reversal of evolution via their complete dependence on technology. With robots to do all the work, computers to make all the decisions, and floating chairs to take them anywhere and everywhere, humans have devolved into gelatinous blobs of lard with a dwindling skeletal system and virtually no face-to-face interaction (all of their communication is through computer screens, even when they’re sitting right next to each other--an obvious smack at our obsessively IM’ing current generation).
With the shift in location also comes a shift in tone, as the quieter, more gentle opening passages give way to a manic sense of slapstick comedy that is as fast and furious as it is parodic of the insanity that follows when we cede all control to our own technological creations. This is amusingly depicted via a battle between the ship’s captain (Jeff Garlin) and the automatic pilot, which has a HAL-like secret motive, as well as the visual anarchy that ensues when WALL•E accidentally releases a hoard of malfunctioning robots that turns the antiseptically ordered ship upside down.
In what is one of the highest compliments I can give a film, I think the great French comedian/filmmaker Jacques Tati would have loved WALL•E, not only for the brilliance of its nearly silent comedy and pathos, but for the way it uses those in the service of a story that warns us about the pitfalls of modern technology and the erosion of humanity that often accompanies it. Tati was a humanist to his core, and his Monsieur Hulot films, particularly Mon Oncle (1958) and Playtime (1967), poked fun at the modern world with beautifully staged sight gags and impressive production design. Cowriter/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) does something very similar here, although the real beauty of WALL•E isn’t so much the undeniably important lesson it imparts, but the way in which it imparts that lesson with such great resourcefulness, intelligence, humor, and vision.
|WALL•E 3-Disc Blu-Ray Set|
|Audio||English DTS-HD 5.1 surround|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 18, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|If ever there was a movie made to show off the pleasures of detail to be found in a true 1080p high-definition image, WALL•E is it (I won’t be surprised if electronics stores make this their defacto in-store movie to get people to buy high-def TVs). The image on this Blu-Ray disc, which is a direct digital-to-digital port, is stunning, offering a wealth of detail that makes you want to constantly freeze the film just to absorb it all. In the film’s opening sequences on the desolated garbage dump of Earth, you can literally feel the dust in the air. Every photorealistic surface looks fantastic, and the image also holds up very well in the film’s second half, which emphasizes the dark blacks of outer space and the gleaming whites of the spaceship. Interestingly, though, there is only one audio option, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. However, the track is so good, with excellent directionality, subtle surround effects, and a great low end that it’s hard to complain.|
|The first disc of this three-disc set offers two commentary tracks that go above and beyond the typical audio commentary. The first, which is labeled “Cine-Explore” features cowriter/director Andrew Stanton, and while he talks you can watch a picture-in-picture that shows preliminary sketches, storyboards, and other preproduction work related to what you’re seeing on-screen. The second audio track is the “Geek Track,” which features character team supervisor Bill Weiss, coproducer Lindsey Collins, story artist Derek Thompson, and directing animator Angus McClane. They take a more trivia-oriented approach to their group commentary, and at various points in the track you can see their shadows MST3K-style at the bottom of the screen. Also on the first disc are two Pixar animated short films: Presto, the hilarious short that played theatrically before WALL•E, and BURN•E, a new film that chronicles the adventures of another robot trying to fix a broken light on the outside of the Axiom whose activities parallel the action in the second half of WALL•E (you can also watch this film as a screen-to-storyboard comparison). |
The second disc divides its supplements into two categories: “Robots” (aimed at kids) and “Humans” (aimed at adults). Under the first category we have “WALL•E’s Treasures and Trinkets,” which is five minutes of amusing short bits featuring WALL•E interacting with various objects (a magnet, a hula hoop, a set of headphones, and, most hilariously, a vacuum cleaner). “Lots of Bots” is a cute animated storybook for little kids that you can either watch with narration by Kathy Najimy or you can enjoy as an interactive experience that involves simple games and puzzles. Arcade-style games that look they were made for an Atari circa 1985 can be found in the “Axiom Arcade”: “EVE’s Bot Blaster,” “WALL•E’s Dodge & Duck,” “M-O’s Mop-Up Madness,” and “BURN•E’s Break Through.” Finally, the “Bot Files” offers information about all of the different robots featured in the film.
The supplements for humans focus on the film’s production. There are seven excellent featurettes that together run just over an hour: “The Imperfect Lens: Creating the Look of WALL•E,” which looks at issues of production design and how the animators made the film look photorealistic by replicating the imperfections inherent in movie cameras; “Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds From the Sound Up,” in which the brilliant sound designer Ben Burtt talks about the film’s sound design and also offers an intriguing history of sound effects in animation; and “Captain’s Log: The Evolution of Human,” which shows how the story evolved from originally featuring gelatinous green aliens rather than de-evolved human characters. Also included are “Notes on a Score,” “Life of a Shot: Deconstructing the Pixar Process,” “ROBO-EVERYTHING,” and “WALL•E and EVE.” Director Andrew Stanton introduces and discusses four deleted scenes, two of which were near completion before they were cut and the other two of which never made it past the animatic stage. The “BnL Shorts” are amusing faux commercials created by the film’s mega-corporation, and the “3-D Set Fly-Through” allows for an impressive view of several of the film’s digital sets, including seven sections of the Axiom, the refinery, and WALL•E’s truck. The disc also includes four extensive stills galleries--“Character Design,” “Layout & Backgrounds,” “Visual Development,” and “Publicity”--as well as four theatrical trailers (three U.S. trailers and one French-Canadian). Finally, this disc includes the entire feature-length documentary The Pixar Story by Leslie Iwerks (which I reviewed last year when it played in limited theatrical release).
This Blu-Ray edition also includes BD Live content, and the third disc houses a digital copy of the film for easy download to computers and portable devices.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment