Pixar’s latest work, WALL-E has been universally hailed by critics the world over as an animated masterpiece and a cinematic tour-de-force. Director and writer Andrew Stanton has been showered with praise for creating the first dystopian movie for children, a movie with a valuable message and a big heart.
Stanton’s last collaboration with Pixar, Finding Nemo was also a major success among audiences and critics alike, so with such a talented writer/director at the helm and massively overblown statements by critics, who could blame me for watching the movie with ridiculously high expectations?
The movie’s depiction of earth in the year 2815 is bleak, to say the least. Humans were forced to leave the planet 700 years prior to the events of the movie due to overwhelming pollution, leaving robots behind to take care of the mess. WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is the last of his kind, a tiny robot designed to clean up the landfill planet by collecting and compacting garbage into easily manageable cubes.
It’s bizarrely fascinating to watch the decaying robot at work and play. During the day he creates skyscrapers out of the millions of cubes that he has compacted, and at night he returns to his make-shift home (an armoured truck filled with oddities that he has found) and pet cockroach; the only living thing left in the wasteland. The bunker is indicative of the human qualities that WALL-E has developed over the centuries, rustically decorated with bits and pieces of humanity’s throwaways, complete with a make-shift television for the robot to watch his favourite movie, Hello Dolly.
His quiet life of clearing clutter is thrown into disarray on the arrival of EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a feminine robot that has come to Earth to evaluate whether or not it can sustain life again. WALL-E is enamoured with the new arrival and manages to return with her to one of the interstellar ships, known as The Axiom, which houses the remainders of humanity.
Being a Pixar movie, one expects high quality visuals, but WALL-E sets a new bar for any and all animation competitors. The landscape of Earth is breathtaking and the design and expressiveness of the robots gives them more humanity than the human characters who are central to the plot of the film’s second half. It’s impossible not to be charmed by the robots’ designs, from WALL-E’s incredibly expressive binocular eyes, to EVE’s sleek and minimalistic iPod-esque look. They are endearing without being overly cutesy, and are by far the best crafted aspect of the film.
The first hour of the movie is entirely free of dialogue, a refreshing change that allows the audience to focus on Thomas Newman’s excellent soundtrack, an original score that is complimented with a diverse collection of tracks, including Louis Armstrong’s La Vie en Rose and several memorable songs from Hello Dolly. The film’s sound effects are also perfectly integrated, with the squeaks and beeps of the robots often conveying more emotion than some of the movie’s dialogue. Of course, you can’t expect any less from Oscar winning sound effects wizard Ben Burtt, who voiced WALL-E’s distant cousin, R2D2 in the Star Wars series.
The movie aims to educate us about the overly consumerist and wasteful lifestyles we live, with that message really hitting home upon the robot protagonist’s first meeting with the humans of the future. Over 700 years in space, humans have devolved into apathetic, obese lumps with machines tending to their every whim. The construction of these machines is overseen by a massive mega-corporation, Buy N Large, who have clearly cornered the world’s market on every product imaginable. The message may not be particularly subtle to the adult audience of the movie, but it does give rise to several very humorous moments throughout the film.
Sound and visual aspects aside, WALL-E is not without its flaws. Firstly, for its intended (young) audience, the film is actually quite dark. The gloomy nature of the future may be disguised by bright colours, but any kid with an ounce of sense will see right through this faÃ§ade.
I also believe moving away from the two mechanical leads in the middle of the film was a mistake. To be honest, I could’ve spent the entire runtime of the film watching the little robot interact with the desolate landscape of earth, wooing the new arrival. The film has a rapid change of pace as the robots return to the Axiom, and subsequent focus on the humans in the second half is much less interesting than the interactions between the two main characters.
WALL-E is the first Pixar film to use elements of live-action footage in its run, with clips from the film version of Hello Dolly and Fred Willard playing the former Leader of Earth who proposed the human evacuation into space. The problem is, all the people of the future are not live action but instead animated caricatures of humanity, and the two ‘styles’ simply do not mesh very well, especially when onscreen together.
Unfortunately, WALL-E is not the messiah of animated films that several critics have claimed it to be. As soon as the ‘shiny new movie’ syndrome wears off, audiences and critics will come to see its flaws. However, this is not to say it’s a bad movie, in fact, it’s most likely going to win Best Animated Feature at the next Academy Awards, but ultimately WALL-E is an experiment that is only partly succesful.
As a beautifully animated movie that tries to pay homage to the silent film era as well as the sci-fi genre, it succeeds entirely. But as a form of entertainment with a message for adult and young audiences alike? Well, we’ll let the box office receipts answer that.