Monday, December 10, 2012

WALL-E (2008) - The Lonely Robot at the End of the Universe

WALL-E DVD cover
"WALL-E" (2008).

"WALL-E" (2008), directed by Andrew Stanton, is a top animated film. It almost has a cult following. It certainly is a clever film, but whether you would find it terrific depends on how you feel about science fiction and fictionalized situations. "Beauty and the Beast" is a great animated film because it deals with people - well, one's beast, but aren't all men in Hollywood films?  LOL - and how they deal with life issues. Are you willing to simply go with the concept of a robot being more human, with thoughts and feelings and love issues - than humans? If so, this is the film for you, because it explores those issues at length.

WALL-E wandering a barren landscape

You aren't going to see a lot of people in this film. You also don't get cute, cuddly animals or baby dinosaurs prancing about. There's not a single monster in this film, nor cars that talk. Your likely response to this film may be judged by what film you (or the person you are getting this for) particularly enjoy. Is it Cars? Or Shrek? Monsters, Inc.? Or would you answer something like Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey? There aren't a lot of people running around talking to each other, as in the first group of films. It is more cerebral and introspective, like the latter two. Which is not to say that if you like Shrek that you won't like this one - but this is a much different style of film than that one.

WALL-E robot

The future laid out in this film is bleak. Earth is a giant trash heap, and everybody has left it because nothing will grow. A powerful corporation, "Buy N Large," led by CEO Shelby Forthright (Fred Willard) is largely responsible. WALL-E (Ben Burtt) remains on earth because his job is to clean up trash. WALL-E is a robot, but a very advanced one that may not look like a person, but feels like one.

The captain in WALL-E

WALL-E does have a friend, a pet cockroach. Otherwise, nothing on the planet grows. Not a weed, not a tree, not a fern or blade of grass. It is all dust and dirt and sand and metal.

WALL-E in space

Another robot shows up one day. EVE (Elissa Knight), a probe, was sent to see if WALL-E has had any success in clearing enough trash to enable people to live on the surface again. Conditions are still so fierce that WALL-E has to rescue EVE from a storm. Grateful for the company, he shows her around. A romance blossoms. You couldn't see that coming, right?

WALL-E travelling down a dusty street

Trying to be helpful, WALL-E finds a small plant growing amidst the wreckage and shows it to Eve. Something unexpected then happens: in accordance with her command set, EVE transmits the data and then shuts down. The only sign of life in her is a blinking green beacon. WALL-E must come up with an idea that will make EVE wake up and be with him.

WALL-E holding something in his claw

As you can tell, when you have a two-character romance in which one is comatose, there isn't much for the awake person to do but think. WALL-E spends a lot of time thinking. Before too long, EVE is recalled to the starship Axiom. There, EVE is reawakened, but their future remains in doubt, as does that of planet Earth.

WALL-E with large moon in background
Pixar does a terrific job, as usual, in making inanimate objects appear to be alive. There is a lot of emotion conveyed by simple gestures and eye movements and that sort of thing. The two robots even dance at one point. It is all very touching if you just think of it as two people trapped inside of mechanical bodies. Everything is painted in soft browns and oranges, with lifeless dark blue and black thrown in for contrast.

Unfortunately, the story starts out with great promise, but it loses focus when it the robots journey to the spaceship. The comparisons to the classic Stanley Kubrick film "2001: A Space Odyssey" are obvious, but to mention these two films in the same breath is to lump vinegar and water. While "2001" is deeply philosophical, "WALL-E" remains focused on its two very likeable and ultimately kid-friendly characters. Larger events happen around them, but they are neither the cause, nor particularly affected by, them. They just happen to be there when things happen, so the tension is in their relationship and the obstacles to its fulfilment, not whether they play some role in the evolution of humanity or anything like that.

WALL-E looking into the night sky

The film is very good at drawing out emotions - whether of loneliness, or love, or wonder. The very end of the film gets sentimental and is very affecting. The two robots make a cute couple, which is something that Pixar does like nobody else. It is a love affair without all that messy "human" stuff, which certainly may be cleanest and most antiseptic kind, but certainly is not the kind most people will experience in their own lives. The robots are definitely designed to make them as cute and adorable as a metal contraption can be, with cute clicks and whirrs and cat-like sounds. That makes it easier for children to focus on the emotions and ideas conveyed rather than the mechanics of "where could this possibly go."

WALL-E hlding hands with Eve

"WALL-E" is well worth giving a shot if this kind of film, animated science fiction with a touch of heart, appeals to you.


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