Pixar: Wall•E



Continuing Filmwerk’s retrospective look at Pixar’s feature length movies to date we have my personal favourite: WALL•E. I was an instant fan of Pixar right back when I first saw the Luxo Jr short animation as a teenager in the 80s. I found that little film absolutely fascinating, so utterly absorbing and engaging, while at the same time completely mind-blowing in that fantastic and rare way only something wondrous you’ve never seen before can be.

The idea of ‘computer generated animation’ was still a brain-bending concept back then and yet Pixar had seemingly just given us all a real ‘shape of things to come’ reality check with Luxo Jr, delivering a believability that clearly outgunned traditional cel animation right off the bat. Most of us at this time were beginning to get used to computer graphics of one sort or another, but this was generally confined to inanimate geometric constructs (like buildings, landscapes and vehicles). The idea of CG delivering watchable, believable character animation was still thought to be unlikely. However, this is perhaps the most important thing about Pixar’s short; it had humanity… and lots of it.

Everything we’ve come to expect and enjoy about Pixar movies now was present in Luxo Jr – most notably, the ability to imbue inanimate objects (in this case, a pair of angle-poise desk lamps) with life, personality, emotion and wonderful humour. It was a revelation.

Fast forward 20 something years to WALL•E and we see that Pixar have lost none of this ability to mesmerise and engage the audience with instantly likeable characters and sumptuous visuals.

The hype and marketing for this film seemed to begin so far ahead of its actual release that I can remember seeing a large display featuring the cute little box-shaped robot at my local cinema and not having a single clue what it was. This little ‘Jonny 5′ mini-me seemed almost part of the furniture months and months before we saw even a teaser trailer, never mind the actual movie, and I recall several disagreements on how to pronounce the title.

Of course the teasers and trailers eventually arrived and the movie became an instant ‘must see’ for me. Appearing about the same time as Dreamworks Kung-Fu Panda (which I saw first), WALL•E immediately had an awful lot to measure up to (Jack Black’s Kung-Fu yarn setting a very, very high standard). I admit I felt slightly worried that even allowing for my love of all things sci-fi, WALL•E might somehow fail to match either the Dreamworks movie or the best of Pixar’s previous efforts. My favourite Pixar at that point was definitely Monsters, Inc. and even though deep down I think I knew WALL•E wouldn’t let me down, there was at least some surface tension! Needless to say, my Panda-induced reservations were groundless. Me and a gajillion other people loved WALL•E and it became another in an increasingly impressive line of hit movies for Pixar.

For the purposes of this retrospective, I was really looking forward to watching it again, this time on Blu-ray DVD in full glorious HD. Oh yes!

This movie is still wonderful, let’s get that out of the way right now. Wonderful.

Pixar seem to have this uncanny ability to pick simple, almost generic vanilla subject matters (toys, monsters, cars, superheroes, sci-fi robots, etc.) and make seemingly definitive statements with every one, each film seemingly capturing an all new zeitgeist along the way. WALL•E fits into this model perfectly. Every increasingly well established element and trait is refocused and laser-guided for optimal precision delivery. From start to finish, this movie reeks of supreme design, A-game visuals and relentless attention to detail.

The movie sets up its high concept premise so well that I think the first 30-odd minutes of it are among the best animation I’ve ever seen anywhere. In fact the whole first act with the arrival of EVE and the beginning of her relationship with WALL•E is truly the stuff of magic. (On a personal note: the song chosen to open the movie – Put On Your Sunday Clothes from the musical Hello Dolly – is particularly poignant for me as it was one that my late uncle sang in the West End production of the musical when I was a child. So even though in WALL•E we have the movie version (Michael Crawford), it always reminds me of him. Which is a lovely extra bonus.)

One of my favourite scenes from this first act is when EVE is deposited and begins her scanning/sampling duties. After the shuttle leaves and she’s checked the coast is clear, she takes off for some much needed R&R. She does loop-the-loops, soaring high and seeming to take big fresh lungfuls of life and freedom while little WALL•E looks on transfixed. He’s immediately smitten. It’s wonderful stuff, and as uplifting and beautifully realised as anything out there.

All this wondrous stuff is famously seen as being achieved with no dialogue. This is somewhat inaccurate because there is in fact plenty of simple dialogue between the two robots, plus a lot of human dialogue delivered in flashback by (and this was an interesting artistic decision) the live action actors.

Having said that, the overall impression of this section of the movie is still that it’s told purely in visuals and music, which is a neat trick. This is key because the rest of the movie segues into a different type of storytelling altogether.

I’m afraid I’m a slight fence sitter when it comes to the second half of the movie. There are those that are so enamoured of that first half that once WALL•E is aboard the enormo-starliner Axiom, things take a slightly nasty dip for them. This is mostly on account of the introduction of the tubby humans (bringing with them more straightforward dialogue), plus the more predictable nature of the action/comedy/peril beats. Many of these folks are inclined to feel that the whole movie should have been more an extension of that wonderful first act.

Personally, while I’m inclined to agree that the first half of WALL•E is completely golden, and the second half less so, I also think that the idea of somehow extending that into the entire film is an unrealistic fantasy, and would be so difficult to pull off as to risk losing some of the audience. For me it’s essential that WALL•E leaves Earth and has his adventure with EVE on board the Axiom. This adventure gives the movie its conscience dynamic thrust, and ensures that a more universal audience of all ages can fully invest in it.

We as adults must remember that the giggle inducing in-jokes we notice (like WALL•E making the Apple start up noise when he reboots) are pretty much lost on the under 15s. But Pixar is well aware of this and makes sure that the kids have their own set of markers upon which to hang their love of the movie. We can’t deny them that, can we?

Finally a quick shout out to my favourite extra on the DVD which is the extraordinarily entertaining short film BURN•E. This amazing short is chockfull of sci-fi references and those fantastic little pieces of business we‘ve come to know and adore about Pixar character animation. Like the main movie, it’s magical and very inspired.

All in all WALL•E still rocks my world and is my favourite Pixar. It looks great on Blu, and has a giant heart that’s completely irresistible as well as an attention to sci-fi detail that is every nerd’s dream. Top marks guys and gals, you earned it!

Ben Pegley

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