19 October 2008


Bravo, Pixar. Bravo.

I have long been a fan of Pixar movies. They know how to tell a good story, and with style.

With that in mind, I must say that WALL E is Pixar's best movie yet.

The creators have managed to look back on the history of cinema and look forward to the future of consumerism and affluence in popular culture - in a kid's movie.

The movie starts with a bleak look at the future of earth. The camera flies over a city overrun with garbage, piles of compacted trash reaching higher than the surrounding skyscrapers, and every thing in sight is produced by the same conglomerate - "Buy N Large". This wretched landscape stands in very stark contrast to the cheerful music playing behind it. Our hero, a trash compacting robot with a pet cockroach, triggers adds as he walks by, and we discover through fading holographic videos that humanity left earth because we had so completely poisoned it.

So it goes that WALL E works day in and day out to clean up, saving little pieces of trash - a spork here, a light bulb there. But here's where Pixar shows their true brilliance. This movie is not just an environmentalist critique of our culture. WALL E is Charlie Chaplin. NPR had this to say in their review:
There's actually a nice parallel between this largely silent film and Chaplin's first sound film, Modern Times. In that one, the silent clown used the soundtrack mostly for music and effects, not for speech, just as Pixar does here. Chaplin only let you hear a human voice a couple of times, and only on some sort of mechanical contraption — say a closed-circuit TV screen — to emphasize its artificiality. It was his way of saying to the sound world, "OK, everybody's doing this talking thing now, but look how much more expressive our silent world is."
Humans are left out, except as videos, until nearly halfway through the movie. When humans do appear, they are lazy and overweight. It seems that life in space is everything it promised to be - with hover chairs, nobody moves; with video screens built into these chairs, nobody has face-to-face conversations anymore; having never seen the earth, nobody knows what "dirt" is. The film-makers took The Jetsons and decided to show what life would really be like in a world where nothing was more than a button away.

On top of the scathing critique of consumerist culture, WALL E is full of allusions to other movies. Of course, Charlie Chaplin is the inspiration for WALL E, but he looks an awful lot like Number 5 from Short Circuit. Auto, the ship's autopilot, is H.A.L. 9000 (Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey) - right down to the glowing red dot. And continuing the ode to 2001, Johann Strauss's "On der schoenen blauen Donau" and Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra" both recieve their moments of glory in the film. Life on board the ship is somewhere between The Jetsons and Star Trek. Even the animated short (a Pixar tradition) gives a wink and a nod; the entirety of Presto is reminiscient of Bugs Bunny and a Merrie Melodies short, though Presto's magic hat resembles more closely that of the sorcerer from Fantasia.

As the credits role, we are treated to the evolution of art - from cave paintings to post-impressionist, van Gogh-esque scenes, the credits continue to show Pixar's brilliance and finish the story; the credits are a well-animated post script in a culture that walks out as soon as the credits roll.

One of the more interesting aspects is the importance of touch in this movie. WALL E spends most of the movie trying to hold EVE's hand. The humans afloat in space have become so dependent on technology that they no longer even converse face-to-face. As such, two humans (one voiced by Pixar's favorite actor, Cliff the Mailman) begin a relationship at first touch, and later rediscover the ship's pool and the joy of splashing water.

WALL E also serves as what one of my professors would call a "chaos monster". For the humans of the film, everything seems to be going fine. Not that things are fine, but nobody realizes how completely screwy things have become. Enter WALL E, who upsets the status quo - first, with the other robots, and then with the humans. As he roams the ship, everywhere he goes becomes a site of change. Like the children in Narnia, WALL E's presence disturbs those around him, awakening them from the trance-like assistance that has become life.

Pixar has a long tradition of telling stores with the lessons that need to be told - rites of passage, acceptance of yourself and others, courage, and the importance of remembering your past (seriously, who didn't get that from watching Toy Story 2?). With WALL E, Pixar has set a new standard for not only artistry, but themes in children's movies. Hopefully, other production companies will follow this shining example.

Rock on.

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