June 26, 2008


28th Century at Bernie's

Grade: A –

Director: Andrew Stanton

Starring the voices of: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, Sigourney Weaver, and John Ratzenberger

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

While it builds toward a typical yet wonderously starry-eyed finale, the opening act of WALL•E is the most audacious, haunting, and brilliant offering in Pixar Studio’s latest animated masterpiece. The creators of the sun-bathed pastiches in Toy Story, Cars, and Monsters, Inc. dare to open a summer kids’ extravaganza with panoramic renderings of a bleak, apocalyptic future, where life has either been snuffed out on or altogether abandoned the third rock from the Sun. Pillars of refuse rise higher than the ruins of ancient skyscrapers, and Rubik’s Cubes and sporks are the relics of a distant civilization. A rocket that later blasts into outer space must first plow through an atmospheric layer of satellites and space junk that has completely enveloped the planet.

Simply put, the villain in the most enterprising Pixar film to date is humankind itself. More specifically, it is rank consumerism, epitomized by a Wal-Mart doppelganger named “Buy n Large” that, centuries ago, literally littered Earth into uninhabitability and then shanghaied the world’s population onto a giant space cruise liner, where a 5-year sojourn turned into a 700-year odyssey of corporate mind-control and sloth wrought by technological creature comforts.

Back on Earth, a robot named WALL•E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth-Class) is the last operative model of his kind, a mini trash compacter whose unending clean-up directive is interrupted by a visit from a fem-bot probe named EVE (Extra-Terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). With a nod to the Biblical derivation of her acronym, EVE is searching for any renewed signs on life in this derelict Eden. However, beyond the rudimentary companionship of his pet cockroach, what WALL•E pines for most is the company and touch of a kindred soul, to emulate the handholding he wistfully imitates every time he watches and hums along to an old VHS copy of his favorite film, Hello, Dolly! Spurred by the discovery of a solitary seedling, these two robots soon become mankind’s best hope for not only returning home but also recapturing their humanity.

Virtually the entire first-half of the film is sans spoken dialogue, but the elaborate array of electronic beeps and synthesized communication (the product of Ben Burtt, who conceived the “voice” of R2-D2 three decades ago) between WALL•E, EVE, and the other robotic misfits back on the BNL mother spaceship carries an innocent, childlike charm that makes the normal human discourse sound almost antiquated by comparison. The always indomitable Pixar animation is especially resplendent and occasionally majestic, partly thanks to the unexpected contribution of visual consultant and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Moreover, a Kubrickian pathos and intelligence permeate the entire production, from the perpendicular evolutionary arc between man and machine (2001: A Space Odyssey) to the suppression of man’s innate nature for the sake of supposed societal progress (A Clockwork Orange). The moment man, long since bloated into a state of immobility by an incessant diet of milkshakes, hover-chairs, and data streams, stands upright for the first time in centuries – to overthrow his HAL-esque computer overlord, no less – is accompanied by the iconic introduction to Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra.” If only in spirit, this is the film A.I., originally a Stanley Kubrick concept before Stephen Spielberg diluted and completed it, should have been.

There are obvious influences of old Hollywood, as well, from Chaplin to Buster Keaton to Martin and Lewis. Director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) acknowledges influences from Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and Logan’s Run. WALL•E himself may bear a close resemblance to Number 5 from Short Circuit, but his manner is more akin to the Little Tramp. Still, like its Hello, Dolly! leitmotif, the film’s heart is a love story. For WALL•E, it is the search for true love; for us, it is a cautionary reminder of the love we have – and often neglect – for our home.

Neil Morris

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