dir: Andrew Stanton
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For some people, WALL-E represents a welcome return to form for Pixar, putting the now Disney owned company back at the top of the computer animated movie pile. For others, it’s just a continuation of their general excellentness, with WALL-E only representing the latest in an unbroken stream of quality products pumped out by the Dream Factory.

And for others, it’s just a movie. A very well animated one, but a movie all the same. I have to admit to being something of a Pixar devotee, so the arrival of their flicks tends to pique my interest greatly. WALL-E's good reviews raised expectations even higher.

But they weren’t too high. I didn’t really expect this flick to be a revelation, because long ago, around the time of Cars, I realised that Pixar’s movies would remain distinctive, and look cutting edge whenever they were released, but that being utterly blown away would be unlikely. Computer animated movies are a dime a dozen these days, the stunning visuals have become commonplace, and the quirky stories about being free to be yourself or stopping to smell the roses are becoming pretty clockwork regular as well.

Which brings us to WALL-E. WALL-E is the designation of a waste compacting robot who labours away day in day out in a city seemingly bereft of other life. Apart from a cockroach pet, WALL-E seems to be the only sentient being on the planet. Every day he recharges through solar power, spends the day building skyscrapers out of the cubes of trash he compresses, and then rolls home to watch Hello Dolly before powering down for the night.

I say ‘he’ despite the fact that the little robot clearly has no gender. No anatomically appropriate parts in perfect working order or anything. You just get the sense that he’s a little guy.

We don’t know how long (at first) that WALL-E’s been at it, but we sense that it’s been a while at least. There are other robots just like WALL-E sitting around, which he cannibalises for parts as need be. They’re no longer operational, and don’t seem to have worked in a long time, and we wonder what makes WALL-E different.

In between performing his necessary function, or “directive” as it is later articulated, he collects odd looking things, or aesthetically pleasing objects that he feels need salvaging from compacting. I use the words “feels” and “aesthetically” with good reason, and not in a lazy sense. The reason for this is that, along with WALL-E’s clear adoration for the musical Hello Dolly, we also get the feeling that he is lonely. He desperately wants someone to hold hands with, just like the leads in the musical.

This certainly isn’t a foray into theological metaphysics and such, but I’m pretty sure the implication is that WALL-E has a soul, or the equivalent of a soul. Having transcended (by accident or intention) his original programming, or directive, and having had centuries to accumulate experiences and reflect on them, he has developed something more than just consciousness.

The idea of self-awareness and beings possessing artificial intelligence is nothing new in science fiction books or movies, but it’s not really the essence of the story here. The story’s point is the many questions that its opening dialog-free first forty minutes force the viewer to consider, until the movie answers the questions itself: where is everyone, what happened to the planet, what does possessing a ‘soul’ or consciousness mean when you’re the only sentient being on the planet, and do these satin hot pants make me look fat?

WALL-E’s centuries of loneliness come abruptly to an end when a far more advanced robot appears on the scene, armed with a scanner programmed to search for organic life, and a gun that blows shit up real good. After a confused first encounter of the almost lethal kind, WALL-E courts the sexy new robot EVE in a way that really Rodgers one’s Hammerstein. It would even Gilbert your Sullivan as well.

Despite being able to say only about two words between them, being each other’s names and the word “Directive”, they find lots of ways to communicate. But the problem is of course, that EVE has a clear directive, and when WALL-E tries to shyly give her the equivalent of some flowers, she is compelled to follow her programming, triggering a sequence of events that sees WALL-E finally get to see the stars up close.

WALL-E’s journey brings him to the stars and back again, but ultimately, WALL-E alternates in function between trying to stay close to EVE, who giggles in the most delightful way, and bumbling resourcefully around a starship where the humans, who have evolved into giant, obese babies with robots catering to their every need, are oblivious to lives which pursue anything except comfort and entertained distraction.

The more cynical reviewers, when the earlier Pixar flick Cars was released, derisively referred to the plot as being Doc Hollywood redone. So Lightning McQueen was city slicker Michael J. Fox trapped against his will in a hick town long enough to be assimilated into their Borg-like collective of small town thinking and even smaller values. If there were cynical reviewers out there as cynical as I am, then there’s another flick they would have pointed to in reference to this one.

No, not Short Circuit, not The Omega Man, and not Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. The clear flick that WALL-E’s antics reminded me of was Forrest Gump. I know I’m a horrible person for even making the parallel.

WALL-E has a Gump-like ability to just bump into people in ways that permanently change their lives for the better, no matter how fleeting or tenuous the meeting or moment between them. He has this effect on other robots, too.

And all this from an outdated, outmoded, old school robot! Isn’t that sweet?

Well, yes, it was sweet, and I was thoroughly entertained for the flick’s 98 minutes. I was even highly entertained by the traditional short animated Pixar movie that preceded it (called Presto!, I think, which was as close to the original Warner Brothers Chuck Jones style of cartoon as we’re ever going to get). Had I been in a mood one fraction of a scintilla more critical than the one I was in, I would have labelled the more sentimental aspects of this story treacly claptrap. As it was I found them sweet and moving, almost to the point of tears.

It seems strange to say such a thing, considering the fact that there’s practically no dialogue. There are a few humans who speak, but there are precious few conversations, with the majority of actual dialogue ending up being between the captain of the Axiom, and the ship’s auto pilot system, which also seems to have a mind of its own. But it has an objective completely at odds with what our little heroes are trying to achieve, which is nothing less than saving humanity from its own indolent ways.

Since it’s a Pixar flick, the attention to detail of course is staggering, but it flows so naturally into the story and the action, never distracting for distraction’s sake. References to other films, including 2001 aren’t gratuitous and don’t stand out pointlessly. This is its own film, creating a meaningful world that whilst requiring a healthy amount of disbelief suspension (even if it doesn’t involve talking bugs, toys, cars, fish or rats), nevertheless gives us emotional and intellectual touchstones to relate to.

It’s a testament to the story-telling abilities of the Pixarians, as well as their technical expertise, that they are able to imbue these creations with emotions and motivations that often real live actors are unable to express and get across. With deftness and subtlety whole ranges of emotions can be portrayed through the twitching of WALL-E’s binocular-like eyes, or by the reaching out of his empty hands to clasp at a non-existent fantasy. He has no face to splash these emotions across, but he’s a loveable little bastard, and that’s no obstacle in telling his amazing story.

And what a story it is. You know, there’s no message I enjoy more from a film ultimately bankrolled and put out by The Disney Corporation that has at its core an anti-corporate, anti-consumerism, pro-environmental message. Who doesn’t appreciate a drug dealer berating drug addicts about their addiction, whilst cooking the shit up and whacking it into their veins whilst giving them a rambling lecture about how self-indulgent they are?

What company (the constant references to a Wal-Mart-like entity, which looks to have consumed and shat out the entire world, and even the moon, aren’t even thinly veiled; they’re blatant) has done more for rampant merchandising and consumerism, and less for the environment than Disney?

I appreciate pro-environment, anti-corporate (and ultimately anti-selfishness messages) to an extent, and you’d hardly label WALL-E a screed or a tiresome, shrill lecture. But there is something hypocritical about it all. I wonder how many tonnes of landfill worldwide will eventually exist, constituting as they will mountains of WALL-E merchandising, Happy Meal toys and packaging arising from this, past and future Pixar/Disney endeavours?

Humanity’s transformation, as depicted in this flick, which it puts forward as a possibility several hundred years hence, I would argue is less science fiction and more a reality, at least in the so-called Western world. I don’t think it’s going to take 700 years to achieve that hideous look and physical consistency: kind of indicates a species of beings that look like little more than a cross between director Kevin Smith and some kind of aquatic mammal, perhaps the gentle manatee. We’re already there, except we don’t have the cute robots attending to our every physical need just yet. Give it a few months. Give it a few more Apple products, gallon sized bottles of corn-syrup infused soft drink and popcorn layered in yellow excrescences (all available at your local cinema’s candy bar), and all will be well.

Not that I’m complaining. But I doubt there’ll be a little cute little robot to jolt me out of my compulsive self-gratifying, Earth-destroying ways down the track.

WALL-E succeeds in both its modest and loftier goals, telling a decent sci-fi story, an entertaining tale full of immaculately rendered high action told within the confines of a sweetly (perhaps too sweet) enjoyable family context. At this stage I think I enjoyed Ratatouille a tiny bit more, but it’s still heads and shoulders above the CGI animated stuff that’s being pumped out these days. Keep up the work, you Pixar nerds, and don’t succumb to Mickey Mouse’s siren sell-out song just yet.

8 ways in which I think this is the first G rated post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen out of 10

“A is for Axiom, your home sweet home. B is for Buy N Large, your very best friend.” – WALL-E