To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
R2D2, Eat Your Diode Out
Steven D. Greydanus reviews the new feature offering from Pixar, Wall-E.
By STEVEN D. GREYDANUS
In a barren
wasteland of endless towers and canyons of refuse, a single creature stirs: a
small robot chugging tirelessly about, almost imperceptibly bringing order out
of disorder. His boxy body is a portable trash compactor into which he scoops
load after load of the sea of trash stretching in all directions, producing
cubes of compressed detritus which he neatly stacks in heaps growing to the
scale of skyscrapers. He is the last of his kind, and “Wall‑E” (an acronym for Waste Allocation
Load Lifter Earth-Class) is effectively his name as well as his make and model.
has a job, but he also has a life — an inner life. He works with his body, but
he lives with his mind. Amid the rubble he efficiently disposes of, Wall‑E finds oddments and curios worth
salvaging: a hinged ring box, a plastic spork, a Zippo lighter. The pride and
joy of his collection is an old VHS copy of Gene Kelly’s Hello,
Dolly!, which wouldn’t be many people’s top choice for a
desert-Island movie, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Actually, the naïve enthusiasm of
“Put On Your Sunday Best,” which Wall‑E
plays obsessively while acting out Michael Crawford’s hoofing, ideally
expresses the robot’s spirit of hopeful wonder — probably because he absorbed
it from the film in the first place. Isolated for centuries amid the rubble of
human waste, Wall‑E has become a
wide-eyed romantic. Such is the ambivalent legacy of mankind in Pixar’s Wall‑E, directed by Andrew
Stanton (Finding Nemo).
Without warning, Wall‑E’s world is shattered from outside by
an event as incomprehensible and momentous as the appearance of the primordial
monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Awe, panic and
ecstasy pull Wall‑E hugger-mugger
in all directions at once. All is changed. The words of Dante catching his
first glimpse of Beatrice apply: Incipit vita nova
(Here begins the new life).
The new life is irrevocable; to go
back to being no more than a salvager of curiosities and compactor of trash
would be unthinkable. When, to his alarm, Wall‑E
realizes it could come to that, he unhesitatingly turns his back on his whole
world, risking everything for what he has found. Love has opened the universe
to him, in all its splendor, terror and ugliness.
Although I suppose most readers will
have seen at least the trailers if not the film, I recount the import of these
events without mentioning specifics, in part because I figure viewers who know
what happens don’t need me to tell them, and the few who don’t deserve a chance
to see these scenes for the first time as I was lucky enough to, not knowing
what was coming.
Beyond that, though, it’s the
import, the effect, that is so striking, that is worth highlighting. Slapstick,
adventure and love are all familiar elements in animated family films. Awe,
existential themes and wholesale world-building are not, at least in mainstream
Even Pixar has never attempted
anything on a canvas of this scale. From Monsters, Inc.’s
corporate culture to Finding Nemo’s
submarine suburbia, previous Pixar films have never strayed too far from the
rhythms of real life. Wall‑E creates a world that,
despite clear connections to contemporary culture, looks and feels nothing like
life as we know it, with unprecedented dramatic and philosophical scope.
True, animation master Hayao
Miyazaki has done all this and more, with vigorously imagined worlds as
evocative and haunting as Tolkien’s Middle-earth. On the other hand, Wall‑E’s achievement is
realized with fable-like simplicity, with little dialogue throughout and
virtually none at all for the better part of the first hour. In addition to
recalling 2001, the nearly wordless first act also
recalls the childlike wonder of early Spielberg and the silent comedy of
Chaplin, with Wall‑E’s blend of
curious naïvete and pathos at once reminiscent of E.T. and the Little Tramp.
(Wall‑E’s “voice,” such as it is,
is created by sound designer Ben Burtt.)
the story transitions from this magical beginning into the very different
second act, in which we learn more about the fate of the human race as well as
the cause of the Earth’s sad status,
it’s not immediately clear that the film will be able to live up to the
perfection of the first act. In a sense it doesn’t quite get there, though
continual invention, creative boldness and visual wonder keep the bar high.
One of the best conceits involves
Wall‑E’s quirky destabilizing
effect on other robots he encounters, such as M‑O
(Microbe Obliterator), a fastidious little ’bot determined to sterilize every
surface grimy Wall‑E has marred.
There’s also a lovely, balletic outer-space pas de deux between
Wall‑E and Eve (Extra-terrestrial
Vegetation Evaluator, voiced by Elissa Knight), the sleek probe droid with big
blue eyes and a deadly draw.
Here’s the thing: Wall‑E’s lonely life on Earth had a level of
science-fiction realism to it. When we finally meet mankind, Wall‑E turns broadly
satirical, targeting mindless consumerism with savage, Swiftian hyperbole.
Now living in a corporate space
cruiser, mankind has completely succumbed to the total lifestyle package of the
all-powerful BuyNLarge (or BnL) corporation, degenerating into a grotesque
parody of couch-potato conformity so debilitating that the human spirit is
Despite one touch with a reasonable
sci-fi basis, this conceit doesn’t bear scrutiny. For one thing, the human
spirit is pretty irrepressible; for another, a 100% couch-potato society
wouldn’t be economically sustainable. As Swiftian satire, though, it’s a bold,
In the person of the Captain (Jeff
does give mankind a chance to improve, a little, and to take some baby steps on
the road to redemption. While I might have liked a more textured vision of
humanity, ultimately the story belongs to the robots, especially Wall‑E and Eve.
Though the film’s themes of
consumerism and environmental carelessness are unmistakable, unduly political
spin on the film is probably more related to election-year hypersensitivity
than the film itself.
Wall‑E is not about left
or right, liberal or conservative. Rather, it is about living thoughtfully,
about what traditional Christian language calls good stewardship of resources
and the environment.
If the filmmakers demand a lot of
themselves, they have high expectations of their audience, too.
As with Ratatouille,
Pixar has decidedly not set out to make the most broadly audience-friendly film
they could have. This isn’t Kung Fu Panda, or
even Cars — not by a long shot.
Will kids sit for long stretches of
visual and aural storytelling with little or no dialogue? Why not?
As I write this review, my three
older kids are watching a silent Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler on DVD. Will
viewers be willing to immerse themselves in a story with bleak, oppressive
surroundings, without familiar parent-child or other domestic relationship
dynamics, without fuzzy protagonists, without familiar lessons about believing
in yourself and so forth?
Those who do will be rewarded with
one of the most enthralling, exhilarating films in years.
the new Pixar short playing with Wall‑E, is as brilliant
and hilarious as anything they’ve ever done.
D. Greydanus is editor and
critic of DecentFilms.com.
Content advisory: Mild animated menace.
Copyright (c) 2017 EWTN News, Inc. All rights reserved.