Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Premise: In the future, the earth has become so polluted that humans have left the planet while Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class (WALL-E) robots are left to clean up the mess. After 700 years only one robot remains until the planet is visited by EVE, a robot looking for vegetation. WALL-E is infatuated with EVE and follows her into space, where humans live sedentary lifestyles on a luxury starship.
What Works: The character of WALL-E ranks among other iconic robotic characters like R2-D2 from Star Wars, Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Number 5 from Short Circuit. He is a full character displaying as much emotion and complexity as a human actor, and that is the real revelation behind this film. For the first third of the picture there is virtually no dialogue and even as humans come to figure into the story, dialogue is sparse. WALL-E, EVE, and most other robots speak only in chirps, beeps, and word fragments but the film is able to completely convey their ideas, motivations, and emotions by letting the visuals and intonations of the characters speak for themselves, trusting in the intelligence of the audience to follow along. This is essentially a silent film and WALL-E and his co-stars put on a show that is equivalent to the work of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin; WALL-E’s adventures after EVE are consistent with Keaton’s character in The General and the robot’s physical comedy is very akin to Chaplin’s work in Modern Times. WALL-E is up to the standard set by Keaton and Chaplin and the animators have created an awkward but lovable character and given him great bits of comedy alternating with scenes of drama. EVE is given the same kind of treatment and she has some very touching scenes with WALL-E, which is amazing considering she has no face and her body resembles an egg. Aside from what the film does with the robots (or perhaps through them) WALL-E is able to make a switch in its second half and make some very sharp social satire. The wasteland of the future is not just the stacks of garbage left on Earth’s surface; it extends into the perpetual vacation of mass consumption the humans have allowed themselves to be lulled into. WALL-E includes a lot of allusions to other science fiction films but instead of using them for cheap laughs, WALL-E situates itself into a genre context; this is the science of 2001 and the used future of Star Wars and Alien with the politics of Blade Runner and Metropolis. The result is a next step for the science fiction film; WALL-E brings together the themes and visuals of science fiction’s past and adds, of all things, a romantic comedy between a pair of robots, to bring the genre into a more human place than it has been in a long time.
What Doesn’t: The only weakness of WALL-E is in a few unnecessarily protracted scenes, especially as WALL-E arrives on the human cruise ship. Here the film gets caught up in itself for a bit. The scenes are fun to watch, but they go on a bit longer than they should.
Bottom Line: This year has already seen some impressive animated films such as Kung Fu Panda and Horton Hears a Who!, which is a testament to the power of this medium. However, WALL-E may well be the Citizen Kane of the computer animation genre. It’s that groundbreaking and that well crafted and steeped in a well-entrenched genre while reinventing it.
Episode: #196 (July 6, 2008)