Archive for June 30th, 2008

The Thinker

Review: WALL-E

As a general rule, all-digital pictures do not impress me. Generally, I get the feeling from these pictures that the phenomenal special effects are substituting for mediocre storylines. Granted, the wizards of digital effects seem to be making quantum leaps in the technology every few years. So it can be fun to attend a Pixar movie just to see what new tricks their team has assembled. But movies in this genre that actually draw me in are few and far between.

Thankfully, WALL-E is one of them. This movie is a delight for people of all ages, and that includes middle-aged men like me. It succeeds on virtually every level and comes perilously close to feeling like a classic. Maybe it is a classic. Sure Shrek, along with Shrek 2 and Shrek 3 were fun, but they were escapist entertainment. WALL-E though will surprise and delight you. It also feels very prophetic. Somewhere up in heaven, Dr. Seuss is smiling.

After its inhabitants abandoned it seven hundred years earlier, WALL-E is perhaps the only functioning robot left on Earth. It was built to compact trash and considering there is nothing much left of the planet but huge heaps of trash, WALL-E has plenty of work. By day he compacts trash by throwing it into an inner chamber. What emerges is a nice cube of compressed trash, which he symmetrically adds to the mounds of trash around him. WALL-E must have been programmed to take the nights off. He is smart enough to head indoors in the evenings, or whenever one of the frequent hellacious dust storms moves through the abandoned metropolis that he inhabits. For entertainment he watches a videotape of Hello Dolly! It is a pretty simple life but lonely. Except for one cockroach, he appears to be the only living thing left alive on the planet.

WALL-E stands for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-Class” and I must say WALL-E does his job remarkably well. He is an unpretentious robot but also ingenious at ensuring his own survival. He even has something of an endearing personality and looks for interesting objects among the voluminous junk that he compacts. WALL-E is a simple and straightforward creature. If a hobbit could be a robot, he would be WALL-E. Except for a cockroach, WALL-E does not have is anything resembling companionship. That changes when another much more advanced robot called EVE is dropped off by a giant mother ship. EVE has oversized powers to move around and blow things up, but WALL-E is smitten with her blue robotic eyes and ultra clean design. Once EVE realizes that WALL-E is not dangerous, they make something of a robotic friendship. When suddenly one day the mother ship returns to retrieve EVE, WALL-E is panic stricken at the thought of losing his only friend. Somehow he manages to board the ship with EVE, who gets to report to her bloated human masters that a small plant that WALL-E has found has been recovered.

On the ship, WALL-E will discover humanity and we are not pleasant. We are extrapolations of the Internet craved denizens many of us already are: bloated to gargantuan proportion, endlessly obsessed with our computers and assisted by legions of robots to make sure we never have to move a finger. We sip concoctions provided by the beverage department of the BIG-n-LARGE Corporation, which owns this cruise ship. Humans have become so absorbed in their digital lives that they have only a vague idea where they are. BIG-n-LARGE, a 27th Century version of Wal-Mart caters to our every capitalist impulse. We have lost even our ability to walk. The mother ship has been on a 500-year cruise of distraction. It is only when biological sensors on EVE report that she has brought back to the ship something alive that this strangely myopic world of grossly obese human and robots gets a chance to discovers something called reality.

The parables for 21st century man are unmistakable. It was humorous at times to watch the animated humans on the screen munch on endless high calorie snacks while the humans next to me in the theater were likewise stuffing their gobs with all the wrong foods. Mostly though I was too enrapt in the story to give my fellow patrons much attention. Much of WALL-E is cinema magic: charming, engaging and cleverly realized. The artists at Pixar have rendered a macabre future Earth so real that much of it is indistinguishable from CGI.

Pulling off a movie like this is quite a trick, but director Andrew Stanton (who also co-wrote the screenplay) pulls it off. Just who is this Stanton fellow? It turns out that this is his genre. He wrote the screenplay for many other digital classics including Finding Nemo and Toy Story. WALL-E though is clearly his tour de force and it borders on genius.

How good is it? It is so good that I was dreaming about the movie all night long, remembering key parts of the dialog and singing snippets from Hello Dolly! from the movie days later. I can see myself owning the DVD when it comes out and enjoying it many times. It is so good that even though it is all computer-generated, I would put it on par with my favorite animated movie of all time, Spirited Away. It is also good enough where you will to want to see it in the theater. Even with a HD Blu-Ray player, seeing it in the theater will be a superior experience.

If seeking summer entertainment, WALL-E is guaranteed to push all the right buttons. Run, don’t walk, to your local theater. This movie may be a classic and you might just want to brag to your grandchildren that you saw it in an old-fashioned movie theater.

3.5 on my 4.0 scale, one of the few movies I have ever rated so high.

 

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