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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Review of WALL-E

This past December during Butt-Numb-A-Thon 9 in Austin, Texas (read my full report here) two people from Pixar Animation came and showed us some footage from WALL-E. And I remember telling someone at the time that if any movie deserves to be the first to make a billion dollars at the box office, WALL-E would be it. Even then, it looked that amazing.

I wasn't able to catch it opening day ('cuz I was busy all weekend with our local Theatre Guild's production of Children of Eden) but yesterday Lisa and I went to the new Four Seasons Station 18 in Greensboro, and I finally got to watch WALL-E.

So what did I think of it?

Best. Pixar. Movie. Ever.

And if it's not the best movie that Disney has ever done, it certainly ranks up there somewhere along with The Lion King and Aladdin (those are my personal favorites anyway). It's so good that I want to see WALL-E... at least six more times while it's still playing at the cinema!

But you know what? The day after, and I can't put my finger on any one reason why WALL-E is so good. This is a movie of very utter extremes: one one hand, this is the finest work that has ever been done for a computer animated film. WALL-E looks real. The cockroach looks real. Those huge pylons of trash that dot the landscape look real. The only thing that doesn't look realistic are the humans aboard the Axiom, and when you follow the story you can understand why that might be, anyway. But at the same time, for all the raw rendering power that got poured into WALL-E, this is a story so simple and accessible that for most of the movie there is not any dialogue at all. And I think that is going to be one of the reasons why WALL-E will appear on many others' lists as Pixar's best effort to date. It is Pixar at its purest... but it's also a movie that dares do something the animation house has never done before: implement footage of real humans (clips of Hello Dolly and Fred Willard's role as the President of Buy 'n Large are the most prominent).

The movie is about WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth class), the last robot still functioning on an Earth buried beneath wasteful consumption gone amok. A few hundred years in our future a Wal-Martish corporation called Buy 'n Large has come to provide for every material human desire and is now the world government. Unfortunately all that needless purchasing has made Earth unfit for human habitation. So all the people leave on starships for a few years while Buy 'n Large dispatches millions of robots to clean up the place.

Seven centuries later, WALL-E is the only one still operational and following his directive. He wakes up every morning, recharges via solar power, then spends the day cleaning up the garbage and collecting the odd treasure like lighters, videotapes and brassieres. Then he retreats back to his "home" for the night, with a cockroach to keep him company.

Sounds like the movie I Am Legend, doesn't it? Well, whatever went wrong with that film, WALL-E succeeds so far as impressing us with a character that not only has a soul, but also with the sense that he is lonely. All without a single spoken word of dialogue.

And then, one day, a ship lands near WALL-E's home. It dispatches EVE, a sleek, slim "female" robot. Immediately, WALL-E is smitten with affection for her. What happens from there eventually catapults WALL-E off the Earth and into space to discover what happened to humanity: now a race of morbidly obese, perpetually lazy blobs of flesh (is this the future of America? I cringe to think that it's possible) that are constantly barraged with advertisements to buy and spend and eat and play. It's like THX-1138 as conceived by Pixar. And I'm gonna kick myself if I don't mention my favorite line of the whole movie: the Captain of the Axiom comes to his senses and declares that "I don't want to survive! I want to live!" I can't remember when so much truth was said with so few words. The human race almost a thousand years in the future not only needs a purpose, it needs a savior... and this squat little droid that looks like a cross between E.T. and Johnny 5 might be it.

That's all I dare say about the plot of WALL-E, 'cuz I went in pretty unawares about the movie's story and everyone else deserves the same pleasure, too.

WALL-E might be the best movie that I've seen so far in 2008. For years I've heard a lot of people complain that the problem with computer animation is that it can't adequately express emotion like live action or even traditional animation. If Pixar hadn't erased those doubts already with recent films like Finding Nemo, then it certainly does with WALL-E. And if WALL-E represents Pixar's fine tradition of continually raising the bar from its previous work, then I cannot begin to imagine what wonder and delight the studio has in store for us over the next few years (Pixar has four or five big movies that they are working on at any moment and at the time of Butt-Numb-A-Thon 9 their slate was filled with projects going all the way to 2012). In fact, I would even say that if WALL-E is any indication, that Pixar might someday soon give us a film that is in every way as believable as any live-action science-fiction epic. Dare I say it? Pixar going back to its Lucasfilm roots to give us Star Wars Episode VII? As doubtful as I am about the upcoming Star Wars: The Clone Wars computer-animated feature, I would gladly buy a ticket for one by Pixar.

I can't say enough how good WALL-E is, folks. You really do owe it to yourself to check it out in theaters. And along with WALL-E you can also enjoy Pixar's new funny short Presto.


AfterShock said...

My family went to see it this past Sunday and I must say I was blown away at how GOOD this movie is. Scratch that - it isn't just good, IT IS EXCELLENT. I recommend everyone go see it, no matter their age, 1 - 150 - all will enjoy this film. It is just flat out amazing and is definitely at the top of my MUST OWN DVD list now.

Anonymous said...

Even better than Nemo? It's going to have to work pretty hard to do that for me. But, the closest PIXAR has ever come to disappointing me was Cars, and even that was better than most other studio movies. So, I am certain I'll love Wall*e.

Thanks for the review, Chris!