Film review by: Witney Seibold
The first half hour or so of Pixar’s new animated film “WALL-E” has nearly no dialogue. There are a few bits of expository dialogue through ancient recordings of Earth’s old CEO/president (a live-action Fred Willard), but mostly it follows a little boxy Waste Allocated Load-Lifter (Earth class) robot as it wanders the ruined post-apocalyptic landscape, slowly but surely compacting Earth’s trash into neat piles. The tenacious little guy has been doing this for 700 years.
This sounds like a premise out of Douglas Adams: a lone robot merrily going about its job hundreds of years after its creators and programmers have either died or ceased to care about it. Adams, though, would have likely drawn a theological parallel.
This first half-hour of “WALL-E” is gorgeous, funny, sweet, and tragic all at once. WALL-E is a lonely ‘bot (despite the presence of his pet cockroach), and while the resolute continuation of his job can be seen as futile, director Andrew Stanton makes us love him, and his fascination with some of the old junk he finds. He has a vast collection of bric-a-brac in the trailer where he “sleeps,” including, most importantly, an old recording of the 1969 film version of “Hello, Dolly!”
WALL-E’s daily tasks are interrupted by the arrival of a hyper-advanced ship from space, which deposits another robot, one with an unnamed task, on Earth. This new robot looks like a cross between an iPod, and something you’d buy at the Pleasure Chest. It calls itself EVE, and WALL-E falls in robo-love.
Had the film stayed on the desolate Earth, it would have been an excellent work of storytelling, and a subtle comment on the ruin humans leave behind. But, not content to rest on that, “WALL-E” eventually takes to the stars, through space, and aboard a spaceship where the surviving humans have been living for the past 700 years. Up here, humans have evolved into fat blobs who can no longer walk, and ride around on floating chairs, sucking meals through straws, and no longer making eye contact (there’s even the implication that we used to look like live-action people, but have become so grotesque that the big-eyes, blobby animated look to the characters is actually an accurate, realistic depiction of our future selves). Even the babies are raised by robots, and never see people. Everything is owned by a company called Buy ‘n’ Large, which is seems to have replaced government.
I guess the fate of humans as fat, ignorant recluses is a great topic for a sci-fi film. Heck, “Idiocracy” already touched on these themes. But “WALL-E” shifts gears too much, and becomes too preachy. In fact, through the film’s entire second half, the quiet little champ we grew so close to in the first half seems to appear less and less, and we spend more and more time with the human characters and the obligatory “wacky” supporting robots. Eventually, “WALL-E” becomes something of a “message” film, weighing itself down with an over-obvious and oft-repeated moral.
My girlfriend expressed concern that the “green” and “anti-laziness” messages of recent children’s films will pass from something honest and urgent into an obligatory moral-of-the-story. It’s a concern I share. Remember that “just believe in yourself” message that was all over the place in the cartoons and children’s films of the 1980s and 1990s? Yeah. Did you really take the massage to heart, or was it just a story element? That’s what I thought.
Would “WALL-E” have worked if it had stayed on the desolate Earth like I wanted? Possibly. Would it have been a blockbuster? Probably not. And despite my gripes, “WALL-E” is actually a really good film, and a very sweet, strong, and entertaining one. Pixar continues to make the better of the popular animated features, and “WALL-E” is another that can be proudly added to their canon.