Eric D. Snider

WALL-E

Movie Review

WALL-E

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: A

Released: June 27, 2008

 

Directed by:

Cast:

Pixar's latest computer-animated masterpiece, "WALL-E," is so full of technical innovation, risk-taking, and awe-inspiring imagination that you can get wrapped up in those elements and forget how flat-out entertaining it is. Or, conversely, you could enjoy the immensely satisfying story, the sympathetic characters, and the inventive humor and not even notice how daring the film is, how it raises the bar yet again on the standards for animation, and how it is possibly the first robot chick flick ever made.

"WALL-E," an instant classic if ever I've seen one, offers something for everyone, and it does so on several levels. It's fundamentally a boy-meets-girl romance, but it's just as fundamentally a futuristic science-fiction adventure. It features homages to the biblical stories of Adam and Eve and Noah's Ark, as well as to "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Alien," "Star Wars," and the silent comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It's hilarious, suspenseful, and charming. It's innocent and exhilarating. It can make you laugh, it can make you cry. It's the best film of the first half of 2008, and sure to be better than most of what's released in the second half, too.

It's set in the late 2700s, several centuries after humans finally filled the Earth with so much garbage that life was no longer sustainable and they had to leave. (Yes, there's a "give a hoot, don't pollute" message, but it's not strident or political.) The cockroaches survived, of course, and the Twinkies are still fresh. But the only other sign of life is a lonely robot who's still doing what he was programmed to do 700 years earlier: collect trash, compact it into cubes, and gather the cubes into tidy stacks.

He's called WALL-E, short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class. He's a squat, solar-powered, turtle-ish little fellow with soulful binocular eyes and a fondness, like Ariel the mermaid, for human stuff. As he patrols the vast expanses of trash, making skyscraper-size stacks of garbage cubes, he hangs on to whatever artifacts he finds interesting and takes them back to his storage shed. One of the film's many pure, simple sight gags has him finding a plastic spork and then being uncertain where to file it -- does it go with the forks or with the spoons? He settles for laying it down between them.

Except for a cockroach pal that he keeps as a pet, WALL-E is pretty isolated until the day a spacecraft arrives and deposits EVE. She's a sleek robot, gleaming white and designed like an Apple component, and she's indifferent to the earnest WALL-E (after determining he's not a threat to her, that is). Her directive is classified. WALL-E, who has learned about love and dancing and hand-holding from an old VHS tape of "Hello, Dolly!" that he frequently re-watches, is instantly smitten.

The two wind up aboard a spacecraft, as the film's trailer hints, and more cinematic treasures await us there. Mankind, it turns out, didn't manage to colonize any other planets after leaving Earth; instead, the humans have been living on a giant intergalactic cruise ship, growing fatter and lazier with each passing generation, relying more and more on robots to do everything for them. The ship's captain (voice of Jeff Garlin) is barely even aware of what Earth life was like 700 years ago. You mean people used to walk around on their feet instead of lounging on floating chairs?

The film is teeming with small joys, subtle jokes, and sublime details -- all the hallmarks of a Pixar production. Yet I marvel at how different it is from previous Pixar films, too. The first 45 minutes are almost dialogue-free, as WALL-E and EVE communicate through robotic beeps and whistles rather than language. (Kudos to Ben Burtt's brilliant sound design for making it sound authentic and still human-like.) There are actual clips from "Hello, Dolly!," as well as non-animated footage of Fred Willard as the CEO of the conglomerate that helped over-pollute the Earth. Where Pixar's past efforts have mostly been about friendship or family, this one is about romantic love -- romantic love between robots, I might add.

But that's what has made Pixar the venerated organization that it is. Each film manifests a loving attention to detail and a devotion to storytelling (it's never just a set-up for gags), and there's always a happy ending. But the giddy nerds at Pixar headquarters aren't afraid to take chances, either. "Finding Nemo" begins with a fish's wife and most of their unborn children being killed by a barracuda. "The Incredibles" has a woman concerned about her husband's marital fidelity. "Ratatouille" is about a filthy rat who wants to be a gourmet chef, for crying out loud. On paper, all of those sound like bad ideas for a children's cartoon, and any focus group or committee would ensure that they be watered down. Thank goodness Pixar doesn't listen to focus groups or committees.

"WALL-E," which was written and directed by "Finding Nemo's" Andrew Stanton, boasts a vision of the future that's as vivid and plausible as any sci-fi film to come before it. You can see the intricacies in the space-age designs and mechanics. The various types of robots (and there are many more on the space cruiser, including a loony bin full of malfunctioning droids) look like they could actually be built and expected to perform they way they do on film. They don't move like traditional animated characters, either, with bodies that stretch and bend whimsically. They move only the way real robots of their design would move in the real world.

Yes -- it's cartoon robots behaving like live-action humans. WALL-E and EVE, despite being made of steel and polymers and not really speaking, manage to express an astonishing array of emotions. Their story -- WALL-E an earnest, love-struck puppy dog, EVE a strong, career-minded woman -- plays out as sweetly and tenderly as if they were people. Having already made us care about toys, bugs, monsters, fish, cars, and rats, I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that Pixar has made robots seem lovable. But here I am, surprised and delighted all over again at just how well these people can tell a story.

Grade: A

Rated G, perfectly suitable for all ages

1 hr., 39 min.

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This item has 26 comments

  1. Clumpy says:

    I never really doubted this one, but I'm glad to see it doing as well critically as it has done - only one hater so far on RottenTomatoes. Cars and Ratatouille were difficult to get excited about despite their quality, as automobiles and vermin are difficult to empathize with, but I think this movie will clean up at the box office.

  2. Savvy Veteran says:

    I have been excited about this one since I saw the preview for it during Ratatouille, and hopefully I will be seeing it tomorrow. I was kind of upset this morning when the Daily Herald critic (who normally hands out A's like candy) gave it a B. I haven't EVEN SEEN it yet and I could just tell that that was a low grade. Eric's review was very reassuring though. Good to hear.

  3. stupidramblings says:

    Incidentally, the two guys at Rotten Tomatoes who gave this film bad reviews--not for the movie's merits but because they hate the studio--are getting crushed.

  4. Tyler! says:

    Honestly one of the best reviews you've ever written. I don't mean the best you've ever given, though it could be that too, I guess.

    Nothing else you've ever written that I've ever read has filled me with so much excitement and convinced me of your opinions so thoroughly. Thanks so much for the great writing on this one, Eric.

  5. milkshake says:

    SPOILERS
    In the list of homages you forgot to mention Titanic - when the maggot-like humans are sliding down the ship deck as the evil autopilot is tilting it... (Somehow I don't think they will happily grow their pizza plants back on Earth.)
    It is a funny and rather mordant movie. I was taken aback how the terrifyingly feminine EVE blasted her lasers, hovered and chirped - I positively got a crush on her.

    Also when you go, try to pick a later-hour sreening - we had to suffer multiple moms with toddlers and those kidos were cranky - apparently they were not getting much from it. Fiding Nemo is it not.

  6. Kimberly says:

    I LOVED this movie. I got to the movie late and had to sit on the front row, I usually hate that. But the movie was so great I forgot all about it. I loved the humor.

  7. Nate says:

    I took my two-year to this movie this morning. It was fantastic. It was a little over her head, but when it was over she asked if we could watch it again.

    I think this is probably Pixar's best film, and I have watched them all several times (Wall-E excepted of course) with said two-year old, so I can say that with some authority.

  8. Chris says:

    I agree that this is the best Pixar film to date. It is also the best movie of 2008 and the best animated movie I have ever seen. 10/10!!!

  9. Savvy Veteran says:

    All the showings have been sold-out today, so when we arrived at the theater for a 2:50 showing at 2:49, we were obviously not in time. Instead, we waited at the mall until the 4:30 showing and then proceeded to love every minute of the movie, as it was definitely worth the wait. The theater was mostly full of young children with their parents, and it was dead silent (aside from the one adorable girl who would say "EVAAH" every time Eve appeared onscreen) the entire film, as everyone was completely enthralled. Pixar knows their audience, and they are smart enough to see that kids don't need poop jokes and singing chihuahuas to keep them entertained. I will throw my hat into the "Best Pixar Film" ring as well.

  10. Pumpkin says:

    I was going to avoid this film just because the robot reminded me of the one in Short Circuit, but since it's gotten such great reviews I may just have to go see it.

  11. Dave the Slave says:

    Just saw this last night- Absolutely brilliant! I was kind of skeptical concerning how much empathy Pixar would be able to generate in that little guy, he being a robot and all, but man-o-man did they ever pull it off. This is truly a great movie!

  12. Ampersand says:

    Kudos to Pixar for creating characters who, even though they're made out of metal and don't speak, are wittier, more charming, and more compelling than most actual human characters in movies.

  13. Queen of Everything says:

    I loved this movie, of course. I don't usually fork over nine bucks for a flick I can rent later for three or borrow from someone, but this one I had to see, and I am so glad I did! I loved how Pixar made the robots behave more like they had human souls than most of the humans did...until later, that is. It made for some interesting metaphors, and of course, a cute little romantic story is always nice. It also really impressed me how they could convey so much during that first half of the movie with the robots saying only three words. Plus, the bad-guy's scheme turned out to be sort of fresh for a kid's movie bad-guy scheme, not totally and completely for psychotic yuks and giggles, you know what I mean?

  14. peter says:

    #10 Pumpkin says:
    I was going to avoid this film
    just because the robot reminded
    me of the one in Short Circuit,

    Why?

    That makes no sense to me at all.

    Do you mean to say that you had wanted to boycott Wall-E because you think Pixar has done something morally wrong in creating a character that superficially resembles a character from another movie?

  15. Rob D. says:

    I loved the little short film before the movie, with the rabit and the magician. Wall-E was very good- it did have some clever humor, I just wish it had a little more of it.

  16. Jesse Harris says:

    It's funny that you mention that EVE looks like an Apple-designed product. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed that WALL-E makes the Mac startup sound when he reaches a full charge.

  17. Anghiela says:

    This just HAS to be the BEST Pixar film so far. I LOVED IT! amazing, wonderfully made, great story. :)

  18. Wanda Sue says:

    I loved this movie so much, afterwards I tried to hug the cardboard cut out of WALL-E in the theater lobby.

  19. bartonjabber says:

    I saw this movie on the day it was released with my grandchildren. I enjoyed the movie but felt as though Hollywood was preaching to me, again. It took away my enjoyment. I am certain part of it is because when I go to the movie I want only entertainment. I don't want to have to think or figure things out. What was interesting was most of my grandchildren didn't really pay attention to it. Usually, they are GLUED to a Pixar movie. I think this was a movie more for 8 and up. But, since we were loaded with popcorn and water... we made no noise and we were in 10:40 am showing so most people know to expect kids!

  20. Wheatley says:

    Have just read several reviews: yours is the best, for you engage well the brilliance of the film and are explicit about Pixar's GETTING IT that children need and WANT complex art--. WALL-E is not only grand entertainment; it is also hugely important in so many ways, on so many levels, in regard to so many issues. Certainly one of the most significant, important films made. EVER.

  21. jen:) says:

    A friend convinced me to go with her and her young daughter. I think I enjoyed it more than they did, not just because of the animation or characters (however, I liked the little cleaner robot), but more so because of the moral of the story. At the end of the movie, I commented that the movie should be a requirement for all politicians across the world!

  22. John Doe says:

    A very cute and enjoyable film. However, I just found the back story be too implausible. We humans are so dumb that we can't manage our own waste, but we're so smart that we can create robots with artificial intelligence and live in outer space. Where do they get any natural resources? It's like they create it out of the vacuum of space. If we can do that, why bother with Earth? The contradiction there is too great for me to ignore. Sort of like how Eric pointed out in Spider-Man 2 how Dr. Octavius already created something that would give him world renown forever, so why go after triidium stuff? But this was bigger, since the entire plot revolved around this idea. Just remember, I'm not complaining about an environmentalist message, I'm complaining about contradicting plot elements. But I did enjoy it, but it didn't become a classic in my mind.

  23. Nicole B. says:

    In regard to John Doe's comment, I don't think the premise of the plot elements are so implausible. Remember that there are always different classes of people in society--from scientists and innovators who work to advance technology and those "regular people" who tend to reap the fruits of the advancements made. It's really not so far a stretch from what is happening today, although there is a green movement that is gaining momentum, motivated in part by films like WALL-E. The movie encourages people to think about what the future may hold if we do not take some accountability for our actions.

    Plus, how much reality can one really demand from an animated film!?

  24. Savvy Veteran says:

    John Doe: "If we can do that, why bother with Earth?"

    I think the movie explained this pretty darn well actually. The ship's captain spent hours googling (for lack of a better word) all of the fascinating things that used to take place on earth, like dancing, farming and whatnot, and saw that although the people on the ship are still alive, they have definitely stopped living. I think the film was arguing that (among other things) the Earth is a precious thing, and it has a certain special quality that you just can't replicate no matter how much technology you use.

  25. John Doe says:

    I guess my problem wasn't so much "why do you need earth" as much as "if you can live in space, creating resources out of the void, why not create a bubble society on earth away from the trash while the clean-up job is going on?" Atlantis anyone? They are living in space! No plant life, no oil, no animals, no natural resources, nothing. If you can live in space, the most uninhabitable and inhospitable place anywhere, then you can live in bubble cities on earth. So that pulled me out of the movie too much.

  26. Brian says:

    I absolutely loved this movie! Been some tmie since I have seen a movie that had it all, but WALL-E certainly delivers!

    And John, there are lots of resources in space. Hydrogen and Helium aside, if they are sending out probes to check for life, they would most likely be sending out probes to bring back resources from comets and what not. Besides that, who knows how far their technology has developed in so far as the creation of materials. Remember, they ate everything in 'shake' form, so plants/animals for food wouldnt be necessary.

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