WALL-E (2008)

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Out of This World | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: It’s jarring, I know, but there is very little dialogue in this film.

I saw WALL-E in the summer it opened with a theater full of children and their parents. Much to all of our surprise, we sat there through a non-typical family film that had the children laughing sparingly, was largely without dialogue, and was a progressive attempt to educate and broaden the horizons of everyone involved. The funny thing was, at almost any given moment, you could hear a pin drop in that theater. I don’t know about them, but my mouth was agape nearly the whole time.

The film presents an extremely bleak Earth, covered in skyscrapers of garbage and regularly berated with sand storms. Composed almost exclusively of yellows and browns, the setting seems to be an apocalyptic desert. There’s almost no movement or life, except for WALL-E. Apparently all the humans left about 700 years ago, taking solace in automated luxury space airliners, after the planet became overridden with garbage and therefore unsustainable. The idea was to leave, let waste collection robots like WALL-E clean up the place, then come back.

Disney Studios is known for walle2anapomorphism, or applying human characteristics to its animal characters, but here Pixar does a surprising job of not doing so. The lone robot (the others broke down, I guess) looks more like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit than the Tin Man. In personality, WALL-E is more like R2-D2. It seems all the years of isolation have gotten to WALL-E, and his only friends are a squeaky cockroach and the occasional trinkets he finds in the trash (simple pleasures like bubblewrap, holiday lights, a Rubik’s Cube, etc.). WALL-E still has the uncanny drive to work – he is a robot, after all – but he desperately wants the external stimulation he views regularly in a worn-out copy of Hello Dolly. So when the Apple product-resembling probe robot EVE lands, breaking his life of monotony, WALL-E falls madly in love.

He’s a curious robot, and extremely childlike. And like we do with children, we watch WALL-E in awe, waiting for him to do something cute. We don’t see him encounter out-of-the-ordinary things, but it’s how he reacts, acts, and learns that makes him interesting. And when EVE comes, we then see him at a privileged point from which to gaze with a voyeuristic fascination. He becomes a clumsy fool in love, constantly failing to woo his robot counterpart as she searches for plantlife. WALL-E’s determination winds up taking him to one of the luxury spacecrafts, where we see what the human race has become: immobile gluttons riding hovering recliners and consorting with digital screens. It takes a machine named WALL-E to show the world what it means to be human.

Pixar Studios is known for its innovations, but in this case they stepped backward, watched silent film greats like Chaplin and Keaton, and created something wholly alien to what seemed like the beginnings of a formula. Writer-director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) pitched a family film in which the first 22 minutes have no dialogue between characters (just video chatter), and the first 39 have no human dialogue! You want star power? Sorry, but only Fred Willard and Sigourney Weaver have recognizable cameos (plus the omnipresent John Ratzenberger). Most of the “voices” are robotic sounds masterfully designed by Ben Burtt. Stanton also opted to include live-action segments for the first time (with the help of Industrial Light & Magic). And perhaps the most incredible choice on Stanton’s part was to make political commentary. The themes of anti-consumerism and big-business-big-government merger caught some flack from conservative pundits, but the overall message of getting off the couch and going green won overall favor.

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With all those items considered, and titans Kung Fu Panda and Bolt coming out in the same year, WALL-E couldn’t stand a chance come awards season, right? Incredibly, the little robot tied Beauty and the Beast for the most Oscar nominations for an animated film in history. It snagged nominations for screenplay, animated feature, sound, sound editing, sound mixing, and song (featuring Peter Gabriel).

WALL-E is a science fiction story, sure enough (I can’t even count the 2001 references). It’s at times a comedy as well (take the character of M-O, who constantly has to clean up WALL-E’s messes). Oh yeah, and it also takes a few political jabs (what else do you call the blatant inclusion of “Stay the course?”). But at its heart, WALL-E is a love story. And I have to admit; it has been a while since I’ve found myself rooting for an on-screen couple like I did for WALL-E and EVE. But I can’t recall ever rooting for a couple that was robots. (Wait, does Blade Runner count?)

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