- What’s Good: A touching and at times timeless story. The robot Wall-E is a legend. Johnny Five is dead!
- What’s Not: The human segments hurt the film. I couldn’t get into the spaceship-set scenes.
- Food Equivalent: rust and twinkies
- Made Up Hacky Peter Travers Quote: A short circuit fun blast that sends sparks flying from the heart. Wall-e sizzles the circuits!
Never thought I would describe a supposed children’s film as a blend of “Idiocracy” with “I Am Legend.” Pixar’s latest is set in a post-apocalyptic and post-human world where a lonely, obsessive compulsive robot toils away making endless stacks of trash cubes and collecting trinkets. After a series of priceless robot antics involving the processing of trash into cube-like poops, a cannibal existence where Wall-E reuses parts from his formerly working pals, and the bot’s touching relationship with a resilient roach, Wall-E encounters Eve, a survey robot sent to earth by the powers that be to determine the state of things. Soon after a disastrous first encounter where Eve tries to evaporate a shivering but stalking Wall-E, the two hunks of metal begin to bond as they enter into an intergalactic journey to humanity’s central hub. Sounds light and fluffy except this is Pixar’s edgiest and most aware film to date. The majority of the film contains no dialogue which, for those weaned on “Shrek”-like vomit dialogue, may find frustrating. And assuming the soccer-Mom Disney contingency with faded W stickers on their SUVs figure out what the film is actually saying, they may be turned-off by the overt jabs at consumerism, capitalism, and environmental wasters (“Cars” this is not).
So are we ready for an American animated a film that espouses big ideas (literally and figuratively)? I sure am. Ruled and ruined by a Wall-Mart like corporation, humans have long abandoned the trash heap known Earth. Hundreds of years later and they still live in a luxury spacecraft light years away. It is here that logic, reason and body mass have been jettisoned in place of comfort and ease. Scene involve the blob-like captain of the ship raising his hover chair –and straining at that– for a sip of coffee while a chair accident tosses a human blob on he ground, prompting robots to tell them not to panic because other robots are going to be there to pick them up. Tee-hee. This sad, giant strip mall in space is of course a robot supported bubble where bots “serve” humans by giving them drinks, back rubs and spinal support. The film, then, is about not only Wall-E’s quest for synthetic connection but mankind rejoining the human condition after years of stasis. Containing trite dialogue (“I never noticed the stars before” a blob says after finally looking beyond her computer screen thanks to Wall-E’s intervention into this horrific ecosystem or, rather, eek-o-system), mostly forgettable characters and a lot of obvious plot details, the sci-fi space ship segment of the film, sadly, keeps this adventure from the masterpiece status it may or may not deserve. Personally, I wanted more Wall-E on earth because, here, actions play out like a blissful silent movie serenade set on a scorched earth. Really, this is should be the little guy’s story to tell; as is, he’s more of a passive participant or indirect catalyst in grand(er) cosmic matters.
Now, there’s a few bits of extratextual (though not extraterrestrial) irony at play. First, the film is critiquing big business and the fascist state of America where corporations serve as our Slurpee pushing overlords that have great interest in keeping the populist fat and stupid and all-consuming. So here’s Disney, a mind-controlling big business if there ever was one, selling a product that goes after big business practices that will lead to our eventual destruction. Irony, no? Also, Pixar is selling this product to, well, fat blobs slurping on soda and nachos in the theater. Funny, yes? Another strange dilemma is the film’s insistence upon crafting a synthetic heterosexual relationship. Wall-E is a clunky, out-of-touch (yet all about touch if you know what I mean) utilitarian male robot that swoons over the sleek and curvy female in the form of an egg who hums around chirping the accusing yet classic line “Waaaaall-E!” every two seconds. Oh, and Eve also stores precious plant life (seeds) found on Earth in her robot womb. Yikes. Strange. So why do hunks of metal have to be soooo… gender specific? Because this is Disney/Pixar and while they may be able to tinker around with Middle American values by poking fun at them, they’re not going to remove the safe relationship! Fine, there’s no way around such arch normalizing of things… but at least the film plays with gender roles by making Wall-E a born romantic that watches musicals while Eve carries a laser blaster and is clearly the driving force in both the plot and Wall-E’s lovelorn life. Wall=E = passive, Eve = proactive. Either way, what we are dealing with here is a classic set of characters that are iconic (yet never ironic) and rich. As rich as any movie human I’ve seen this year at least. The result is a strange brew of a film that’s cute for kids and cunning for adults.
Unlike most of Pixar’s cannon, this film is not altogether condescending (though it turns into that in the last act). It is, for the most part, a smart and demanding, yet totally rewarding for the passive viewer and mindful watcher alike. The film lover in me geeked on blissful homages to “2001: A Space Odyssey” (the antagonist is a Hal-like robot that’s intent on keeping humans ignorant), “Hello Dolly” musical numbers and of course silent film mechanics that make a empirical case for children’s films, nay, all films, relying less on canned dialogue and more on visuals, heart and ideas.