WALL·E might be the first major Hollywood production not to feature a speaking protagonist in a while. I can’t remember the last one. WALL·E, the robot, makes some emotive sounds and mispronounces his girlfriend’s name, but he communicates through action, not through verbalization. It’s rather effective, since the robot’s supposed to be adorable and Pixar’s animation team goes above and beyond. The robot’s utilitarian in design, but everything else is precious (though the eyes aren’t particularly pragmatic).
The first half of the film is a solid, interrupted romance, with WALL·E finding a girl robot, Eve, who’s beginning to return his affections. Until he, inadvertently, causes her to shut down. This development doesn’t just make the opportunity for lots of cute scenes with the concerned WALL·E, but it also kicks off the rest of the narrative. WALL·E‘s got an interesting narrative–it’s a little short, but it’d be hard without dialogue to flesh it out and dialogue would ruin it–with two plots (the fate of WALL·E and Eve and the fate of the human race) intricately tied, but still somewhat unconnected. It’s because the moving parts of WALL·E are the romance (which reminds a lot of Broadway Danny Rose in that simple, but staggeringly affecting way). The human race and its problems mostly concern Jeff Garlin being really funny as the primary human character.
But director Stanton takes an approach to the future–and particularly the space–I haven’t seen in quite a while. There are lots of homages (2001) and references. The scenes on the decimated future Earth, polluted to all hell through mismanagement from a Wal-Mart stand-in–WALL·E‘s not just pro-environmentalist, it’s one of the most anti-corporate mainstream films I’ve ever seen… coming from Walt Disney Pictures no less–remind immediately of A.I. The references I expect, but Stanton’s enthusiasms for directing space scenes–or the wonderment one can experience thanks to a light bulb–is something special. The light bulbs and the like aside, Stanton’s space scenes remind of Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture in terms of raw excitement. Stanton fully utilizes the technology, but for the story. WALL·E contains a dance scene, probably as close as we’ll get to seeing Jeannot Szwarc’s tragically unfilmed ballet for Supergirl, and it’s a perfect example of the art and technology working in unison.
The approach to the story, and how the filmmaking interacts with it, is what makes WALL·E so exceptional. There are no metaphors, no analogs, instead Stanton establishes WALL·E and the setting in five minutes or less and then everything plays out in it. WALL·E doesn’t garner sympathy because he’s an analog for a pining leading man, he garners it because he’s a little robot with a particular story.
Where WALL·E falters is in its attempt at reality. There’s live action footage of Fred Willard as the characters look into their past, along with a lot more live action clips. The way it works out is problematic… the future is CG animation, the past is reality. It’s a neat idea, but just doing as life-like CG as possible for the past–never breaking the film’s visual continuity–would have been far better. There are also some problems with how much information the film presents about this future setting. It dwells long enough to raise questions, but doesn’t want to address them (or even the raising of those questions, since many are non-Disney like).
WALL·E‘s probably Pixar’s best film (the only serious competition is Monsters, Inc., also from Stanton, but that film had third act problems) and it’s a definite achievement.
Directed by Andrew Stanton; written by Stanton and Jim Reardon, based on a story by Stanton and Pete Docter; directors of photography, Jeremy Lasky and Danielle Feinberg; edited by Stephen Schaffer; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Ralph Eggleston; produced by Jim Morris; released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Starring Ben Burtt (WALL·E), Elissa Knight (Eve), Jeff Garlin (Captain), Fred Willard (Shelby Forthright), Macintalk (Auto), John Ratzenberger (John), Kathy Najimy (Mary) and Sigourney Weaver (Ship’s Computer).