WALL-E is freakin' awesome in WALL-E.
by Gary Sundt
Film critic Roger Ebert once asked the great Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni what his favorite love scene was. Mastroianni (who most Americans recognize from Federico Fellini’s La dolche vita or 8 1/2), after careful consideration, eventually responded with: “I like it when Minnie kisses Mickey, and little red hearts go pop-pop-pop, over their heads, in the air.” I mention this because I believe I have found my own favorite movie love scene, which is when the two robots finally hold hands in Disney/Pixar’s latest triumph, WALL-E.
WALL-E tells the tale of the dirty and beat-up WALL-E (Ben Burtt), a little trash-compacting robot with a curiosity rivaled only by small children. The droid is the last of his unit (is that the right term?), left in charge of cleaning up Earth when the trash became too much for us humans. WALL-E does his job efficiently enough (piling square cubes of garbage into skyscraper-like structures), but finds time to collect a lot of stuff and keep track of his pet cockroach. He (and I use the term loosely) even has his own favorite love scene from his favorite movie, Hello, Dolly!.
Everything in WALL-E’s world is shaken when a mysterious craft comes from above. From this space ship appears EVE (Elissa Knight), a clean and new robot who, like WALL-E, is one of many of the same unit designed for a task. She (again with the looseness of phrasing) is looking for new life on the planet Earth. The little garbage-handler is immediately smitten with the plant-finder, and he soon brings her to his collection of things, one of which is a plant he has recently discovered.
EVE sees the plant, takes it, and suddenly shuts down in wait for pick up. She is eventually snatched up by her spacecraft, and WALL-E tags along. They are taken to the Axiom, the space ship where humans have lived for 700 years (they have just celebrated the septua-centennial of their planned five-year stay). WALL-E desperately wants EVE’s affection, EVE wants to complete her directive, but the plant has gone missing. The film then goes off with the two robots and their malfunctioning brethren trying to locate and save the plant, such that the humans can return to Earth.
But “Are we so keen on going back and taking responsibility?” is the question. WALL-E has a whole lot to say about the environment, obesity and several other issues of note in our troubling political climate, so much to the point that I wonder how people will take to the film. For example, the humans on board the Axiom have gotten so reliant on technology that they have grown morbidly obese, flying around in hover chairs and drinking all meals through giant sippy-cups. They hold conversations via computer when the person on the other end is hovering right next to them. There are a few people who have accidental collisions with WALL-E, knocking them out of their technological stupor and allowing them to take in the beauty of the real world. These are the kinds of subtle jabs at mankind (Americans in particular) that will turn off some viewers, which is a shame because WALL-E is simply brilliant.
Every time Pixar comes out with a film, I wonder if it will finally yield the disappointment long-expected from the seemingly perfect animation company. It is alone remarkable that they have put out consistent greatness, but the fact that they top themselves continuously makes it even more amazing. With WALL-E, I believe Pixar has produced their masterpiece. This is a science fiction movie, a comedy, a love story and a political statement all rolled into one, and all of it is executed with absolute perfection.
Writer/director Andrew Stanton has made a movie here that can scarcely be believed. He has drawn from some classic films for inspiration, from the work of Charlie Chaplin to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Sigourney Weaver comes in as WALL-E’s very own HAL), and meshed it all together into a flick that is both earth-shatteringly original and uncannily familiar. These are computer-generated images, but the characters are more real than most of what you’ll find at the movies. There is hardly any dialogue, but the relationship between WALL-E and EVE has more depth than many screen romances (and all they can do is hold hands!). The ladies from Sex and the City could take some lessons in love from these two robots.
Not everybody is going to get behind this film. It has a lot of stuff that, if people get it, will be shocking and abrasive (because we know they’re right). But I loved WALL-E. I loved it a whole bunch. I want to see it again. I want to buy the DVD. I want the vintage soundtrack. Heck, I want the big cardboard model they have in the lobby at the movie theater. Very rarely will I see a film that touches me deep down, reminding me why it can be so special to go to the movies. WALL-E did that for me.
NOTE: Pixar is always reliable in providing short films before their features. The one before WALL-E, called Presto, is wonderful.
NOTE 2: Arizona Daily Star film critic Phil Villarreal has taken a remarkably large amount of flack for his negative review of WALL-E. We critics usually have several reasons to dislike a film, and people should understand that. However, I have to disagree with what I consider to be his principle argument: “WALL-E is programmed more for critics and intellectuals than families looking to have a good time at the movies.” I think WALL-E is for everyone who appreciates wonder and good storytelling, and people should not be discouraged from seeing a movie because it may be too smart for them. That kind of thinking is simply patronizing to the general public, and should not be a rewarded way of thinking (particularly when written in the bizarre and disconnected style of his review).
Running time: 97 minutes. Written and directed by Andrew Stanton. Produced by Jim Morris. Starring Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin, Elissa Knight, Ben Burtt, and Sigourney Weaver. A Disney/Pixar release. Rated G.