Friday, June 27, 2008


Meet WALL-E, short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth-class. WALL-E is a waste management robot - he and thousands like him, were tasked with compacting the overabundance of garbage into cubes and neatly stacking them into towering structures in an effort to clean up what had become an Earth inhospitable to life. After 700 years of diligent effort, WALL-E is the last of his kind, and along with his pet cockroach, Hal (as in 'Hal Roach' - and if you don't know who Hal Roach was, I suggest you look it up or you'll miss a great inside joke), as far as one can tell, they are the last "living" things on the planet. The curious thing is, after all the many decades, garbage is not the only thing that WALL-E has 'picked up', hence the pet roach. WALL-E has developed a unique personality, an insatiable curiosity and a fondness for collecting things. One of his most prized possessions is a VHS copy of Hello Dolly, which he watches nightly upon his return from work and, at some point, through the development of his personality, his interactions with the garbage and the many viewings of his single movie, WALL-E has discovered the most telling indicator of his sentience: He's lonely, painfully so, and he yearns for more. However, WALL-E continues his daily duty, partially because that's what he was designed to do and, primarily because his curiosity wouldn't allow him to do otherwise - oh, and there's also the small fact that he's proud of what he does. Now, after hundreds of years of doing what he does and becoming who he is, WALL-E is suddenly confronted by new and exciting possibilities with the arrival of an exploratory robot named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), with whom he is instantly enamored. As his internal circuitry mirrors that which the Tin Man most desired but always possessed, he sets forth on an adventure that, unbeknownst to WALL-E, has taken him 700 hundred years to prepare for.

WALL-E is, in a word: Stunning. I'll admit, I went into this movie expecting to enjoy it, but I was caught completely off guard by what I experienced; in other words, I was happily overwhelmed. When I wasn't laughing at the obvious (and not so obvious) humor or being touched by the poignant desires of WALL-E, I was sitting with mouth agape at the sheer spectacle of such a multifaceted and profound storyline. I've become quite accustomed to Pixar's movies dealing with darker issues just below the surface of the conspicuous, kid-friendly plots (Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles come immediately to mind), and I've become equally accustomed to Pixar's directors and writers rarely, if ever, acknowledging the existence of these underlying currents, however, this was the first of their films to integrate multiple eddies subtly intermingling like shifting sands on a desert planet, while the director continues to reaffirm that this is merely a love story. Perhaps that's where Pixar's, and by default, WALL-E's, genius truly resides: in the ability to tell a fun, heartfelt story with fundamental moral principals that everyone of all ages can enjoy, while surreptitiously blending notions of deeper meaning and thought for anyone who might take the time and put forth the effort to gaze a little deeper into the picture placed before them. Think of it as a splendidly animated Rorshach ink blot test: You can look at it and say, "Butterfly!", and be content, or you can take your time, delve deep into the crevices and see a flowering meadow alive with nature under a cerulean sky at the height of Spring. Either way, you're right.

Another amazing aspect of this film, in conjunction with the story, is the manner in which it is told. There are only a few actors involved and, for the most part, they don't really turn up until the second act of the movie and even when they do, the robot characters, communicating through sound effects and a handful of synthesized words, are still the center of the story. And when I say "characters", I mean that in the most complimentary way possible because the robots (especially WALL-E) have more personality and can convey more emotion, even though they lack a vocabulary, than most people I know. Watching the first act of the movie, in which the only characters were WALL-E, Hal and, later, EVE, was pure unequivocal animated poetry. Throughout the film, I was constantly reminded of my annual New Year's resolution to strive to talk less but say more; it was refreshing and reassuring to see so much being said, feel so much emotion, without the hassle and clutter of talking. Granted, the credit for "acting", the emoting, the "heart" and overall striking appearance of the film rests with the spectacular photo-realistic animation. Not only were life-like robots able to believably display longing and wonder, but desolate cityscapes, dry, dusty and barren of life for hundreds of years, were presented with a captivating beauty rife with loneliness juxtaposed phenomenally with the vivid colors, expansive star fields and clean line aerodynamics of future space travel, all while paying homage to the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton as well as classic science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running and Alien. Quite a stupendous achievement and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised, when the Academy Awards roll around, to see this movie forgo the Best Animated Picture category and head directly for the Best Picture Oscar.

Obviously, I was very impressed with this film and a majority of the credit must go to the main character, WALL-E. One of Pixar's outstanding qualities is the ability to create rich characters with whom an audience can readily identify and, not surprisingly, I had felt an affinity to WALL-E upon seeing the first teaser trailer that simply showed him gazing up into the starry night sky. I was intimately acquainted with that look. The more I saw, leading up to the release of the movie, the more I liked and the more I recognized a kindred spirit, so I was predisposed to, at least, enjoy certain aspects of the film regardless of the overall product, however, as I've previously stated, the overall product is astounding. Again, that's just my opinion - I don't expect everyone feel the same connection that I did, but I do expect the average person to thoroughly enjoy this movie and I definitely think that WALL-E is more than worthy of a theater viewing (or two).

I could continue to ramble on concerning my opinion of this movie but, for your sake and mine, I'll refrain, although I will leave you with one final thought: Several years ago, I read an interview with Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, referring to the summer of 1967 when he and the rest of the Beach Boys and some friends were all taking a break, staying together at a large beach house and basking in, not only in the glow of the California sun but, the glow of their perceived musical accomplishments, as well. According to Wilson, while in town buying groceries, one of the members had picked up a copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album having been released just that day (which would have been June 2nd, I think), and brought it back to the house for a listen. After hearing the album from start to finish, Wilson said he realized that the Beach Boys had accomplished nothing. Now, everyone would pretty much agree that Wilson was being much more critical and demanding of the group than anyone else would ever attempt to be based on what the Beach Boys had contributed to music up to that point, but in his eyes and by his definition of 'accomplish', they were extremely far behind. After seeing Pixar's WALL-E, I can't help but wonder how many animation executives, directors, cinematographers, sound engineers and studio brass are thinking the same thing.

No comments: