It’s hard not to like Pixar, especially if you like animation. They may have practically invented the 3-D stuff that criminally sounded the death knell for traditional animation, but they’ve brought such life to the medium that it makes you cast a look askance at what Disney’s been doing since Walt died- the same thing over and over.
Wall●E is another fantastic entry in a series of movies that have kept raising the bar since Toy Story came out back in 1995. Cars was a mediocre entry for adults, but if I’d seen that when I was a young boy obsessed with Matchbox cars and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, I’d have loved it. So I can’t fault them too much for catering to Nascar fans; they even made driving in a circle seem exciting, so Extra props for that. Pixar’s latest movie’s title is a nod back to their beginnings-a little computer-generated movie called The Adventures of André and Wally B., which was the pinnacle of computer animation at that point. We nerdlings sat in slack-jawed awe at its magnificence. From screenshots in Atari magazines. Without the youtube we had no way of seeing it, but it’s up there now.
Wall●E isn’t about bees, it’s about a little trash compactor robot, the last of his kind left to clean up our mess on Earth in the far future. All his little buddies have broken down and he scavenges them for parts to dutifully keep making neat little cubes of trash on our poor used-up planet. His one friend is a little cockroach, also seemingly the last of his kind. Wall●E leads a mostly lonely life, doing his job and saving little bits of trash that amuse him, like a Rubik’s Cube, and his most prized possession, a VHS tape of Hello Dolly that he watches every night.
Until one day he sees something he’s never seen before- something lands and ejects another robot, a sleek white little egg-bot named Eve. Her mission is a mystery as she scans every square foot of the planet, with Wall●E following close behind, eager for a little robotic companionship. Things play out with little dialogue, just bleeps and blurts and the occasional word. Like a silent film romance between Chaplin and a flower girl, it draws us in through their non-verbal cues and through some terrifically expressive voice acting. Wall●E’s been compared to Johnny Five from Short Circuit, but he makes the 80’s bot seem like Short Round with the symphony of expressive notes in his repertoire.
The adventure really begins once Eve is called back from her mission, and we find out what happened to humanity. It’s a hilarious and pointed satire on consumer culture, where the planet was run by the CEO of Buy ‘n Large (played with the usual hilarity of Fred Willard), and 700 years later we’ve evolved into Cabbage Patch people riding around in hoverchairs with TV screens, cell phones, and a constant supply of Slurpee meals. This remains in the background enough to keep Wall●E and Eve’s story in the forefront, and without making the message too strident. (Though I imagine Fox News will try to make some sort of controversy about it.)
At 103 minutes, it was a bit long for a kid movie, but it never dragged once. The pacing is perfect, and if you thought kids would squirm and squall at a movie where a robot and a cockroach bleep at each other for half its length, you’d be wrong. Our theater was surprisingly quiet- the kids were enraptured by this simple story. And no one will be rushing out to buy pet Madagascar hissing cockroaches that will end up in shelters, at least. So, Pixar’s done it again. Not once was I bored. It’s a little on the smarmy side in points, with Hello Dolly, but it’s natural sweetness, not a high-fructose overload.
I’d go see it again today, just to stare longer at its rich backgrounds and simply stunning animation- they’ve raised the bar once again, and shown that Brad Bird isn’t the only guy in their studio who can make a movie just as exciting for kids as adults. Ratatouille and The Incredibles are two of my favorite animated movies, but The Iron Giant is hard to top. Wall●E doesn’t top it, but sits right alongside. It does, however, make you want to drag whoever at Disney greenlighted Beverly Hills Chihuahua and throw them in a trash compactor.
There’s also a hilarious Tex Avery-style short by Pixar called Presto, about a hungry rabbit dueling with his magician onstage, before the film. It’s not as madcap as Tex, but it’s funny and original, getting a lot of mileage out of its premise.