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Hallelujah, Pixar’s back! Not that it really ever went anywhere, but kids, I have to say, and I’m sure lightning (McQueen) will strike me at any moment, so I’ll whisper, I really didn’t like Cars or Ratatouille very much. Gasp! I never thought I’d ever voice anything but unremitting praise for the works of John Lasseter and his band of merry men (- and women), but I was bored into a deep study of my eyelids by Cars and thoroughly annoyed with anything not four-footed or voiced by Peter O’Toole in Ratatouille. However, I must say that this dislike of those films is relative; even the worst Pixar offering (-s, see above) is better than most live-action today, but I still felt a standard had dropped somewhere and I was maddened at the thought of losing faith with one of the greatest animation companies America has ever produced. I felt like my fandom was riding on their latest effort, Wall-E, and glory of glories, it surpassed my loftiest expectations.

Most of the bows must go to the itty-bitty bot who is the star of the show, one Mr. E. Wall-E opens with a number from the Hello Dolly soundtrack called “Out There,” wherein Michael Crawford’s character imagines a slick town far from his hick town. As the bright sparkly tune plays, a panoramic view of a city of mountains and teetering stalagmites under a permanently overcast sky unspools before us. As the camera looms in we realise these aren’t some strange land formations, but moss-covered skyscrapers and dank pyramids of compressed junk. The architect of the carefully erected monuments is a tiny robot with triangular treads for feet, a small square box for a body and two tear-shaped goggle eyes. Wall-E dutifully carries out his programmed directive, to collect and compress all the trash he can find on our garbage-covered planet. There is no water, green life or another living creature to be found, except for Wall-E’s best pal, a precocious cockroach called Hal (- Hal the roach. Hal Roach, geddit? Okay, that one might be too old for the kiddies). At the end of his work day, Wall-E retires to his trailer where he indulges in his two joys, collecting any intriguing bits of trash he finds along his route, like the little green plant sprouting under a pile of scrap metal, and whipping out an old VHS tape of 1969’s Hello Dolly and dancing along with the musical numbers and mooning to the love scenes. Though it is nowhere in his initial programming, the little robot is lonely. He is the only working machine left on Earth after all its human inhabitants were evacuated 700 years before. Each day is like the last for Wall-E until he spots a peculiar red light outside his trailer, Wall-E chases the light which lures him to a spot directly underneath its source; a very large spaceship landing in the middle of Wall-E’s nowhere. Ejected from the rocket is a sleek, levitating white pod, out of which pops a head with two blue LED eyes and a pair of arms, one of those with enough firepower to obliterate anything it aims at. Wall-E clumsily tries to befriend the new arrival and has no luck until Hal shows him the way. Once the visitor, named Eve, warms to Wall-E, he’s thrilled to show another being the knick-knacks he’s collected in his trailer and even screens his favourite film for her. Wall-E’s latest addition, the little seedling, turns out to be exactly what Eve has been sent to Earth to find and her prime directive takes over the white robot, shutting her down until her spaceship returns to bring her back from whence she came. Fearing for his newfound love, Wall-E stows away on the top of the ship as it hurtles to its spaceport home. The tiny plant is a signal for the descendants of the Earth evacuees to go home now that sustainable life has been discovered. However, not everyone is so anxious to head back to the mother planet and Eve is in danger as forces conspire to hide the plant stored inside her. It’s up to our little hero to protect Eve and return humankind to its home planet.

Fabulous. A classic film in any sense, with its adorable, winning lead character and combination of humour, action and romance, Wall-E is a prime return to Pixar form. With squeaks and wails courtesy of Ben Burtt, the voice behind Wall-E’s distant cousin R2-D2, Wall-E emerges as a personality as endearing and delightful as Chaplin’s Little Tramp. With precious few sounds, Pixar has created a character of pure charm. From the early moments of Wall-E, it’s clear that he is not just chips and gears and a motor; the little robot has a soul. In his relative muteness, everyone can relate to the wee automaton. His initial resolution and cheer in the face of utter desolation is so sad that once Eve enters his life, the whole audience is rooting for him to get the girl. In her time with Wall-E, the pistol-packin’, duty-driven Eve learns there’s more to life than just directives, and in her Pixar has created a great female character that needs Wall-E as much as he needs her, but is no powder puff. Her shoot-first-and-ask-questions-maybe style at the start is downright frightening (- like her Angry Eyes) and makes Wall-E’s precarious wooing even more adorable. There’s a lot of adorable in this story, but in true Pixar fashion there’s a message under all this cuteness. Looking at the world of trash the Earth will become 700 years from now, I guess those of us in the present probably should have been more diligent in our recycling. All the human inhabitants of Earth are on a great big spaceship owned and operated by BnL, a single conglomerate that seems to have owned everything important on Earth. Their CEO has replaced the President as Leader of the Free World and it is his robots that work under his directives to try and clean up the planet while the humans take temporary leave, intending to come back once the robots had dealt with the pollution problem. On the spaceship, It’s a Mecha World, After All; 700 years from now you will never have to lift a finger, there will be some robotic servants and gizmos in your flying chair making it unnecessary for you to get up and walk anywhere. The human race has become a distracted, uncommunicative, consumption-obsessed band of amorphous blobs. The utter lack of exercise and existence on whatever junk they’ve been eating on the spaceship has bloated the population under mounds of gelatinous fat. Later, when Wall-E’s plant is discovered as the signal to return to Earth, the computers who’ve been nurturing the dependent humans for so long have - like Wall-E - grown minds of their own and don’t necessarily share the same directives as the humans they serve. Lotsa social commentary, kids. Listen to Pixar!

My only nit was how heavy handed those messages were, and maybe a touch more finesse would have been nice. However, I did enjoy the clever use of Sigourney Weaver’s dulcet tones as one of the ship’s computers counting down the self-destruction of a life pod. Same with the BnN billboard on the moon next to the Apollo 11 and the petrified flag and the BnL CEO’s advice to “stay the course” regarding his questionable orders. This is the only Pixar film to use live action footage in broadcasts of the BnL CEO, played by Fred Willard and some other folks in the days before the evacuation. The 2nd half of the film, when we move to the spaceship is very different in tone and that might be a little jarring or read as uneven to some, as our concerns now have to shift to those of the human characters. There was enough of a focus on our main stars that I didn’t mind. Besides Wall-E’s bug pal, Hal (- Only Pixar could make me love a cockroach!), we meet some other mechanical characters who join Wall-E and Eve in their adventures on the ship, most notably a little cleaning droid called M-O, who will run rings around your Roomba! All I know is I want them all.

I was happily bowled over by the charm of both Wall-E the film and especially Wall-E the character. Congratulations to Pixar for making a darling gem of a film that you’d have to have a heart two sizes too small not to love.

Queue starts behind me for Wall-E-2!

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva/Mighty Ganesha

June 25th 2008 

 

PS: Bonus (?!) Review : You didn’t think I was going to let ya’ll go without talking about the brilliant short before Wall-E, did you? Silly people. Make sure your bums are settled in your seats in time for Presto, possibly my favourite short since For the Birds (- definitely my way favourite over the painful Boundin’).  In Pixar’s closest cousin to the classic Warner Brothers cartoons, a careless magician teases his long-suffering rabbit – the guy who pops out of the top hat – with the lure of a carrot to tide over his starving bunny belly.  A series of distractions leads the careless Presto to drag the pitiful, hungry flufftail back onstage for their next act without actually giving him the carrot.  That’s when Alec (- who’s very smart) decides to go on strike and takes Presto’s secret weapon, a wizard’s hat (- which looks like he got it from a certain well-known Mouse at a garage sale) that does all his magic for him. There is a tug of war between Presto’s hat and Alec’s carrot usually with Presto coming out on the sticky end of things until each side learns to compromise.

Egads, was this cute, more specifically, I want an Alec Bunny doll, now! The rambunctious slapstick was a hoot, as are Presto’s well-deserved Wile E. Coyote spills and thumps. The beautiful backgrounds and the looming heights of the opera house where Presto performs are painstakingly rendered and lit as if by the gaslight. There’s clearly a lot of work to make the short look so flawless. As for our two protagonists, I would be perfectly happy to see Presto and Alec in their own feature.

Hint-hint, Pixar.

~ LMD/MG

 

PPS: Hang on through the end of Wall-E for Pixar’s interpretation of the history of civilization through famous moments in art, all reimagined to include robots and plump humans. The credit crawl features adorable Apple II-style renderings of the robots. In-jokes include a quick glimpse of Crush and his family from Finding Nemo and the Pizza Planet van from Toy Story in a scrap heap. I’m sure there were more.

~ Still LMD/MG

 

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