Sunday, June 29, 2008


I go from one wonderful animated movie to another equally wonderful one. WALL*E is hands down the best movie of the year so far. I don't know if this is Pixar's best movie to date, but it is certainly in the running. This is saying a lot when talking about a company with as high caliber films as they create.

I figure first I'll talk about the short that preceded the film. Pixar packages each of their films with a short- often used to try out a new technique, or give up and comers a chance to take the reins. This short, Presto, is a pretty clear throwback to classic Warner Brothers animations. It was by far Pixar's most cartoony film to date. It's interesting that they coupled it with quite possibly their most subtle feature. Presto tells a simple story of a magician, his hungry rabbit, and a teleporting hat. This sets up a genuinely hilarious set of visual gags with various objects going in and out of the hat at (much the consternation of the magician) the most inopportune times. Despite nothing going right, these pratfalls lead to one wonderfully choreographed and downright impressive magic show.

As for WALL*E itself, it's a lovely, poignant love story. An animated movie with very little dialog about a love between two robots (who have only the bare minimum of facial expressions) seemed to be a fairly progressive gamble. By director Andrew Stanton's own testimony, however, the idea of subtly was the driving force from when the idea was first kicked around during Pixar's legendary brain storming session a decade ago. This is the last movie to come out of that session, and I'm kind of glad they waited on it. I think a movie like this wouldn't have done as well without the power and reputation of a company like Pixar behind it.

The main character, WALL*E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth-Class) is essentially a trash compactor with tank treads. Him and his brethren were left on Earth to clean up after the human race trashed the planet and escaped into space. 700 years later he is (presumably) the last robot on Earth, and continues to go about his duties day in and day out. Over the millennia, however, he developed a very un-robotic characteristic: a personality. A very endearing personality at that. Life goes on as normal until one day a space ship lands, depositing another robot. EVE, a robot sent to investigate if there is any life left on Earth, becomes the immediate object of WALL*E's affection. The two form the most unlikely love, and WALL*E follows her back into space after she is picked up. The two of them become the key to humans re-inhabiting the planet.

Okay, the story isn't terribly new. Lovers from essentially different classes having to overcome obstacles to be together. The originality comes in the robots. These two (WALL*E especially) are among the most emotive characters I've ever seen. It was troubling to see a robot with more heart than I have. It's not often that you see a robot and genuinely feel for the characters. I've never been to an animated movie where the audience was literally silent in emotional expectation. That is a true testament to the animators at Pixar.

The only issues came in with some of the human characters. When humans come into play in the second act, they were fairly stylized- in the same vein as The Incredibles. This was in kind of jarring contrast to the realism of the scenes on Earth. I can see where this would be intentional in comparing the grittiness of the world they left behind to the sterility of the space station. It's just that the characters themselves didn't seem to fit in the same world as WALL*E. This wouldn't have been so bad, except for the few live action shots included. WALL*E passes the time on Earth by watching a VHS of Hello Dolly. That live action is fine, but they also include footage of Earth's president, played by Fred Willard. There's something a little unsettling when the human animated characters are watching this live action footage. Something just doesn't jive between the two.

This is only a very minor complaint. All of this takes a back seat to the characters anyway. I was a little concerned that dialog consisting primarily of robot deeps and whistles would get annoying. Somehow this really managed to work. It seems that their gamble really payed off. This week it was deservedly at #1, and I expect it to stick around for quite a while.


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