Directed by Andrew Stanton
WALL-E is proof that Pixar Studios houses some of the most interesting mainstream filmmakers working today. Each film they make shows an effort to push the boundaries of animation in technology, in storytelling and thematically. WALL-E is a relatively ambitious film tackling the way consumerism takes away our ability to engage in the world. The question is: How well can a $180 million film work as a capitalist critique?
The film opens with an earth that has become a wasteland covered in trash. The humans have deserted the planet waiting for conditions to improve. Our main character is WALL-E, a trash compacter robot who is completely alone except for his very uncute cockroach friend. The first half hour is basically dialogue-free as we learn WALL-E’s daily routine. Turns out he is an avid collector of garbage treasures and loves watching Hello Dolly. WALL-E’s life turns upside-down when a spaceship lands on earth and he is introduced to the Robot EVE. He falls in love with her and inadvertently ends up in space on a huge starliner full of humans who have grown fat and baby-like and spend their entire days consuming things and staring at computer screens. The film becomes a quest to return the humans to earth against forces which want to retain the status quo.
The strongest part of the film is the first dialogue-free sequence. It’s funny and a little sad and completely engaging. It’s also pure animation: Unlike so many dialogue-heavy cartoons, we learn everything about WALL-E from his movements and gestures. It’s a brave move because it does ask the audience to pay more attention and engage with the visuals in a way that most kid’s movies don’t require. If this was a purely market-driven film this sequence would not be here. It also fits in with the message of being more active in the world.
What is a bit harder to take is the way the film goes out of its way to pimp the Apple brand. Apple owned Pixar from 1986 and sold Pixar studios to Disney in 2006 but because of that deal, Steve Jobs became the biggest individual shareholder in Disney and WALL-E lets us know it. When WALL-E powers up, he makes a Macintosh startup sound. He watches movies on a videp iPod. The design of EVE is basically a sleek white cross between an egg and an iPod. For a film designed as a consumerist critique, such blatant product placement is fairly suspect.
I’m a bit torn about the romance between WALL-E and EVE. It’s actually done amazingly well. In the early scenes where WALL-E and EVE are courting it’s impossible not to feel a bit of emotion for what are essentially two asexual hunks of metal attempting to build a relationship. However, when the sci-fi element of the film comes into its own, the romance starts to feel like a distraction like so many other science-fiction films that bring in a superfluous love interest a la Tim Burton’s version of Planet of the Apes. It also allows for the film to have a strangely superficial happy ending. I feel that the film’s message would be stronger without an ending that was so unreservedly optimistic. A great example of this is Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke whose ending was optimistic enough for its characters to move forward with their lives but also ended on a note of sorrow at the loss of natural wonder. But perhaps, when you’re talking a $180 million dollar budget, you can’t afford anything but a happy ending.
Still, WALL-E remains a supremely innovative piece of entertainment. It’s not the best Pixar film to date but it’s miles ahead of most other blockbusters in the cinemas at the moment.
SEE THIS WITH:
Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki, 1997