June 28, 2008





 "WALL=E" (Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class) is the name of a darling little trash-compacting robot of the future, and Disney/Pixar's latest computer-animated treasure. The humans have evacuated Earth to a spaceship while robots clean up the mountains of trash left behind. There doesn't seem to be any other functioning robots around (we see a robot graveyard of sorts). His only friend is an almost-cute roach. After a hard day's work, WALL=E goes home to his neatly-categorized  human artifacts (everything from cigarette lighters to garden gnomes) strung about with Christmas lights, and plays an old video of the 1969 musical, "Hello, Dolly." His favorite part is when the man and woman hold hands. He keeps looking at and clasping his own claw-like appendages. Enter "EVE." EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is a "probe" robot sent from the spaceship. She's pristine white and blue with expressive eyes. WALL=E is smitten. There's only one problem—EVE is a bit of a femme fatale. She shoots first and asks questions later. And when she shoots, it's more of an incinerating atomic firestorm. (The roach, of course, is immune.)

As EVE collects data, she finds the holy grail among all the synthetic debris: a living, breathing, plant seedling, which means that Earth can once again support life and the humans can return home. However, certain robots aboard the spaceship have taken over, and don't want Earth re-colonized. A fierce and amusing struggle ensues.

At first I was bothered, but later delighted by the paucity of dialogue. WALL=E and EVE hum, giggle and make electronic exclamations, but their words are very few. And this is as it should be. Movies are a visual medium. It's "Lights, camera, ACTION!" not "Lights, camera, TALK!" In film school, budding filmmakers are often required to make their first short film without dialogue. The words WALL=E and EVE use most are each other's names, over and over. And I do mean over and over. At a certain point, the little munchkins in my cinema were calling out their names as well. The lack of chatter also makes us focus on all the loving detail in each scene.

The soundtrack is a surprisingly fitting jukebox of warm jazz ballads from yesteryear--humanity's finest emotive music, the story seems to say. WALL=E is a romantic at heart (or shall we say "at solar battery pack"), and longs for companionship with one who is "bone of his bone," "flesh of his flesh," so to speak.

Although any story primarily about non-human, non-sentient characters can feel a little cold, the whole enterprise is ultimately for the humans. Humans are not demonized over against the environment. Rather we're seen as a bit ignorant, foolish and sheep-like for not choosing what is actually best for ourselves. It's good to see that even though we are gently chided and caricatured for a) creating so much waste b) behaving like unthinking (robotic?) consumers c) preferring virtual reality to reality--the message is one of hope. We can turn things around, we can make better choices, and—apologies to Thomas Wolfe—we can go home again.

Definitely take the kids to this one and have a good discussion afterwards!

The movie reminded me of other movies,
--"A.I." for its non-human, futuristic main characters (a robot boy an a teddy bear)
--"Blade Runner" for its consumeristic/advertising-everywhere vision of the future
--"Citizen Kane" for all the "stuff"
--"Veggie Tales--Madame Blueberry" for all the "stuff" ("Stuff-Mart"!!!)
--"Star Trek" because the spaceship, "The Axiom," looks very much like, and may be a nod to, the U.S.S. Enterprise
--"2001--A Space Odyssey" for the HAL-like mutiny (and hilarious use of the theme song)
--"Bella" and "Juno" for their "here's a way back from where humanity is headed" stories

I got into the cinema late in the middle of, not "Coming Attractions," but an animated short! It was a magician and his rabbit--pure slapstick, almost vaudevillian. The rabbit never got his reward during practice (a carrot), and now refuses to cooperate with the magician during the performance. You had to hear the audience, especially the grown men, laughing uproariously at every gag. Some (good) things never change. The kids laughed hardest (during "Wall-E") at the bra joke and when an avalanche of shopping carts pin "Wall-E" up against a wall.

Things to note:
--Hell hath no fury like a female robot.
--Wall-E's special reverence for living things--the plant.
--Wall-E not knowing what all his "stuff" was for until EVE looked through them and made them work (the lightbulb, the cigarette lighter).
--The bubblewrap. :]
--As futurists predict, there is only "one company": "Buy-n-Large." Which, by the way, makes people large.
--Google 5.0 on the spaceship. All voice-activated: "Define ____." "Define ____." Absolutely no need to retain anything in our brains.
--The poor reading skills of the captain of "The Axiom."
--Wall-E disrupts virtual reality and gets the humans more in touch with reality: talking to each other face to face instead of by screen, touching each other (holding hands, of course), splashing around in the pool. ("I Wanna Hold Your Hand" could've been "Wall-E's" theme song.)
--This is a film about the environment, but in its right order: The environment as the home of humans.
--"I don't want to survive--I want to live!" (The battle cry of the new human revolution? Cf. Chief Seattle)
--Were the human babies all conceived and gestated in a lab?
--The "rogue robots"--who's really crazy?
--The personification of the various robots and their personalities!
--"Wall-E" is an example of media critiquing itself.
--Check out the quick little history of art during closing credits: cave drawing, hieroglyphics, mosaic, Renaissance sketches, pastels, stippling, Impressionists, pixels.

--"Seeing" ourselves in the future: Obese, infantile, demanding, unable to walk in our Laz-Y Boy hovercrafts, eating/drinking everything out of a supersize cup/straw, living vicariously through a SCREEN PERPETUALLY IN FRONT OF OUR FACES (kind of like the one I'm at right now)....

--primordial relationship without which life doesn't make sense: male / female
--bodily contact absolutely essential
--when Wall-E first SEES EVE
--hands "go together"
--the kiss and "dance" in outer space

The sound effects are a whole world in themselves, and include a distorting of "real sounds" from the "real world"--everything from Niagara Falls to raccoons. All one can wonder is--how do the creators THINK of these things (and execute them)? I'm just glad they do.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed the movie, too. I was thinking about it yesterday and realized how nice it was that Wall-e didn't get a fancy makeover at the end. He was still just a dirty little robot. I had half expected him to get all retrofitted with rocket packs and shiny new pieces.