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Caution: Rogue Robots

November 1st, 2010 · 3 Comments

Logging in to Netflix Instant for a movie to watch is like being hungry and shown to a food replicator. It doesn’t solve my problem — it introduces one thousand new ones. Luckily, I can see which genres are rated higher in nutritional content, in this case, 4 or 4 ½ star ratings out of 5 stars. “Documentary” had a lot of those. So did “Anime & Animation”. In the month of November, I take another trip around the globe to sample recent animated feature films.  First stop: Emeryville, California, USA.

WALL-E (2008)
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, story by Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter
Produced by Jim Morris
98 minutes

The most visionary film by Pixar Animation Studios to date — reaching for Fantasia, surpassing Tron and marrying science fiction to romance magnificently — is WALL-E. The idea was hatched in 1994 during a session in which animators tossed out ideas for a follow-up to Toy Story. One concept was the last robot on Earth, a machine that was stuck doing the same solitary job for all eternity. Andrew Stanton, who would co-direct and co-write A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo, thought this was the saddest character he’d ever heard of. Animator Pete Docter agreed and the pair would return to the idea in 2002. Using the screenplay for Alien as a reference, Stanton & Docter wrote a script driven by description as opposed to dialogue. At a minimum budget of $180 million, WALL-E became the most expensive project from Emeryville yet. Every cent was bankrolled by Pixar’s parent company Disney.

After development testing got underway in 2005, Stanton and the story crew watched Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton films during lunch, getting into Harold Lloyd’s work for ideas as well. The absence of singing animals in an animated film would be cause for celebration; the absence of dialogue for the first 40 minutes of this picture is a revelation. If the film has a star, it’s sound designer Ben Burtt, who pioneered the field in Star Wars and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and for WALL-E, engineered every click, blip and pop as if was language. Loaded with as much substance as audio/visual splendor, the film offers sophisticated entertainment for anyone in the mood for diversion while illustrating that mankind cannot keep producing garbage (or Wal-Marts) faster than the ecology can sustain them. Sigourney Weaver is nearly imperceptible as the voice of the Axiom’s computer.

In the distant future, mankind has abandoned rising toxicity levels on planet Earth for destinations beyond the stars. Carrying out his program unaware of these changes is WALL-E (voiced by Ben Burtt), a robot manufactured to scoop up and compact trash. WALL-E brightens his lonely routine by saving the best pieces of refuse — cigarette lighters, utensils, a VHS tape of Hello, Dolly! — to store them in the shipping crate where he powers down at night. One day, an infared dot appears on the ground. WALL-E chases the dot oblivious to a spacecraft that roars down on him. The craft dispatches a sleek anti-gravity probe that begins scanning the ruins. WALL-E becomes instantly smitten. Risking annihilation by her state of the art defenses, WALL-E introduces himself to the probe, whose name is EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight). Taking cover from a windstorm, he invites her to his home.

EVE reveals her directive when WALL-E shows her a seedling he discovered and keeps in an old shoe. EVE confiscates the plant and powers down, but WALL-E tethers her in Christmas lights and takes her on his rounds so they can remain close. When the spacecraft returns for the dormant EVE, WALL-E hitches a ride as it blasts through the cosmos. The spacecraft docks with the Axiom, an interstellar ocean liner where mankind has resided for the last 700 years. Due to disuse atrophy in zero gravity, humans have devolved into blobs that live out their days in a perpetual beach resort, drinking their food in cups and tended to by robots. The seedling WALL-E and EVE return sets in motion a protocol by the ship’s lethargic Captain (voiced by Jeff Garlin) to return to Earth, but the computer who really runs the Axiom takes measures to stop this from happening.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 192,598 users: 89% for WALL-E

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 94 for WALL-E

What do you say?

Tags: Alternate universe · Animation · End of the world · Man vs. machine · No opening credits · Road trip · Surprise after end credits

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 AR // Nov 1, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Oooo, I’m looking forward to reviews this month. I love animation, and it looks like you have some lined up I haven’t seen yet.

    Anyway, I saw WALL-E a little less than a year ago and love it. I did find the shift in tone in the 2nd half a bit jarring, but otherwise it worked. Those first 40 minutes w/o dialogue are mesmerizing, and the overall depth of the film’s design, the way every little detail was clearly thought-out, was impressive. Although that is much of what I expect from Pixar.

  • 2 Mrs. Thuro's Mom // Nov 8, 2010 at 4:20 am

    I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping up with blogs as often as I should. I went to see Wall-E at 9:00 in the morning thinking no one would be there. Every toddler and preschooler in Little Rock was there! Fortunately, the film was so good that I was actually able to tune them all out. I love everything about this movie. The scene where Wall-E is trying to figure out where to put the spork is absolutely hysterical. This is my favorite Pixar movie. Even though it has a definite message, it doesn’t beat you over the head with that message. Great, great film all around.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Nov 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Amanda: I haven’t seen any of the animated films coming up on my queue either. I hope we both uncover some surprises! As for WALL-E, I find see brilliant every time I watch it. I’d put this film in there with a milestone like 2001 in the sense that the narrative moves forward and characters interact without explicit dialogue, yet there is a language there if you listen. Thanks for commenting!

    Monica: Preschoolers, learn some respect, dammit! This is Pixar! I can make a case for almost every Pixar film except for Cars being my favorite, but if I had to choose one, it would probably be Ratatouille.WALL-E is a very, very close second. Thanks for commenting and don’t worry about falling behind reading blogs. They don’t throw anything away on the Internet.

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