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Wall-E is a Pixar Legacy

Directed by Andrew Stanton
Written by Stanton and Jim Capobianco
Disney, 2008

Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are considered legends for what they could physically do on film. They could take ordinary objects and turn them into pure entertainment. It was by necessity, since they worked during the silent era and movies were all visuals. For the past 13 years, not counting their early days when they nearly didn’t make it as a studio, Pixar has been doing the same kind of legendary work for which Chaplin and Keaton have been lauded. Their big screen adventures have done it, but to a greater extent their also-classic shorts that have preceded every feature since Toy Story (Wall-E has Presto, continuing the tradition of greatness), all pretty much silent films with a dabble of sound effects and music.

Wall-E is like one of their dream shorts blown up into a full-screen adventure. I do not hesitate to compare this one to all-time classics like The Wizard of Oz. Modern-day films have a hard time getting the recognition of a Citizen Kane (a movie that had a hard time winning everyone over at first) or Gone with the Wind, or even in Disney’s own animated pantheon: Snow White and Seven Dwarfs or Bambi. AFI found room for Pixar’s Finding Nemo (also Stanton) and Toy Story recently in their “Top 10 Animated Films of All-Time,” a list that also nauseatingly included Shrek (I swear one day Shrek will lose its luster and will look like the antique it is destined to become). Something’s going to move over after this one. Wall-E is ridiculously good.

It’s been 700 years and the little robot WALL-E (voice by Ben Burtt), along with a cockroach, are the only living things left on the Earth. The big cities are covered in trash, apparently something that started happening when man left the planet so many years ago. The robot’s main function is to gather the trash and compact it into a little box, and he still does it with aplomb, but much of the time is spent picking over the little treasures left behind. He’s lonely save for the cockroach, and he’s developed a bit of a personality, and he pines for the human expression of love in an old Hollywood musical (Hello, Dolly).

One day a ship lands and a sleek female robot named Eve (Elissa Knight) starts scanning the planet. Wall-E falls in love, but she is not interested, and when startled she’s prone to fire some death rays in the perpetrator’s direction. Eventually, though, Wall-E begins to interest the scanner robot in some way, because she starts to feel a bit lonely, too. But one of Wall-E’s treasures, a small plant, is about to send Eve into a bit of a coma, and her mothership returns to pick her up. Wall-E grabs on to the ship tight and is sent into space.

There, we find that the descendants of Earth have turned into fat slobs who have machines do everything for them. They have little chairs that scoot them around while projected images fill their vision with data overload, mostly to buy more stuff. Eve is sent to the captain of the mothership (Jeff Garlin) to produce her findings, a discovery that will enable the earthlings to return home, but the plant is mysteriously gone. Seems like the machines don’t exactly want the humans to leave. Enter the 2001 parallels. Thus Wall-E and Eve have to find a way to find the plant, override the control of the machines, and get back to Earth.

Any kind of plot description doesn’t do the film justice. There are so many classic pieces of cinema contained within Wall-E. Miles upon miles of visual gags, and I’ll remind you again, the best of Chaplin and Keaton when it comes to turning a mere funny situation into a memorable work of art. From the beginning of the movie, you care about Wall-E. His expressions, his reasoning, his ability to take care of himself, and reminders that he is in danger of possibly losing his life should he not be smart about things (the sort of ground covered in I Am Legend), are endearing, so much so that a later moment in the film where he is alive, but not exactly the Wall-E we know, is heartbreaking.

And of course, I would be wrong not to include the other characters, too. Eve is a fun character, the cockroach, a little robot whose job is to clean things, so on and so forth. Pixar and Andrew Stanton, not surprisingly, have thought it all through and a film 4 years in the making shows that films can still be made well. If you’ve never seen the story of Pixar, you should see it as soon as possible. Consider the themes throughout their history: it’s teamwork, dedication, talent, and lack of ego. It’s no wonder they’ve churned out hit after hit and pretty much every one of their films is either good to great. Wall-E stands alone on their magnificent tower of success.


Comment from Linda
Time: June 27, 2008, 6:53 pm

Nice review, I think Pixar should be proud of WALL-E. The connection with the character was so fast, I was almost startled. I also love the visual pop culture references as simple pleasures. Who doesn’t love bubble wrap?!!? I was glad for a break from talking animals in an animated film, and appreciate the creative use of a fire extinguisher. Wonderful film I can’t wait to see again.

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