WALL*E is Earth’s waste allocation load lifter robot. This Johnny-Five remix performs the only task remaining here by mashing together the mess we’ve made. In the future, as the movie proposes, we’ve given up on reversing the damage in favor of a multi-generational infinity cruise through space. The byproduct of our negligence is piled skyscraper high back home, forming obelisks of odds and ends that haven’t been viewed by eyes (biological) in generations.
Bleak, but not overbearing. This wasteland works for the setting and the soul. Everything is bathed in golden glow to keep up enthusiasm in the face of horror. Captivating canyons and craters form a natural landscape to open up from the expanding necropolis. For lack of a better description, WALL*E, the film, is as awe inspiring, as WALL*E, the character, is awe inspired.
Lens flares, heat fumes, manual focus, and justified lighting aren’t mandatory of CG artistry, but special attention is paid. This is a fantasy film that respects the audience expectation, using familiar tricks to make these characters tangible to our subconscious. Bringing in Coen Bros. cinematographer Roger Deakins was not a frivolous expense.
Animation here succeeds in capturing genuine emotion from subtle mechanical movements that humanesque facial animation just can’t yet achieve. The technology isn’t yet ready to put that in the film’s foreground no matter how much bank Pixar reels in from Woody and Buzz, not if the goal is to transcend beyond the popular. Same goes for animals, but insects, being somewhat mechanical in nature, are easier to deal with. Perhaps that’s why the only non-metal entity during the company’s finest hour is an impervious cockroach, best pal of WALL*E, who’s pair of inflexible oculars emote fragile innocence in a world of harsh odds against life, love, and the pursuit of replacement parts. His voicebox comes courtesy of sound designer Ben Burtt who made his mark with E.T. and R2D2 before, culminating in the most relatable character in the company’s history, while being more physically departed than Mr. Potato Head.
The first third of the film exists almost in silence. Our trash is another’s treasure, so for this period we’re offered patient observation of the tread tired toasterchild digging up the retrograde ensemble of castoff culture. WALL*E collects the sort of strange things we did as children. Mine were unusual rocks and a foul smelling stingray skeleton I dragged back from the beach.
Most precious of all is the salvaging of movies. Well… one movie; a beat up VHS of Technicolor musical numbers. The old timey tunes are faint and fading as they echo off his scrap metal cabin.
Shhhh… what’s that? The wind!
But truth be told, I’ve seen this. Once the Louie Armstrong kicked in and billboard video ads showed a way-too-prosperous-for-comfort family enjoying what clearly doesn’t bode well for our legacy, I was not only reminded of the late 1990’s videogames Fallout and Fallout 2, but recognized their unique flavor of post-apocalyptica all over the place. Those commercial actors I mentioned? They’re wearing the same exact design of spandex jumpsuit (it also comes in Fallout blue) worn by “vault dwellers” in identical context. This would have me crying derivative (it also borrows 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Alien, and THX1138) but WALL*E is a valuable film in its own right.
I’d be satisfied enough to get a Pixar animation that doesn’t overprioritize kid flick shenanigans as much as their other work does, but WALL*E actually delivers itself uncompromised while remaining equally accessible to children. Oh, and along the way it paints a clearer picture of love than any romantic comedy ever made.
Along comes an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator with legs like… something that is legless. Commonly referred to as EVA rather than EVE because WALL*E is incapable of ending on a consonant, the scannerbot explodes onto the surface in pursuit of a tiny green plant as proof of life, the one thing necessary for humanity to return to its place of origin, which our protagonist has already acquired. It’s the sort of tiny sprout you might keep in egg shaped plastic back at the office, only fitting that EVA resembles one.
She’s everything WALL*E can’t be and he knows it. EVA is dynamic, energetic, confrontational, and clean. A graceful sight when taking to flight, this fresh tech becomes the obvious object of affection that lends new meaning. She’s amused by the nervous advances but she’s also well above it, and she floats just as a real person might seem to when they’re beyond the known world. Her fate carries a hurt pre-programmed by society, but the more reason for WALL*E to play savior.
Too bad he’s a mess. WALL*E can literally give her the world, what’s left of it, but that would mean getting close and facing probable rejection by way of plasma cannon. Tough to play the careful game when you’re experiencing loneliness, curiosity, discovery, devotion, anxiousness, dejection, worry, martyrdom, and a complete reimagining of “directive” all at once. It’s making him the clumsiest rust bucket this side of scorched earth.
WALL*E is a tin man even more tragic because he has a heart. He’s creep who wishes he was special and… well that’s gonna have to be enough. When EVA returns to the space station Axiom to deliver our salvation, she finds she can’t do it alone, and as hilarious as it is to watch the trash compactor fumble in his attempts to keep up, what we really want to see a hopeful conclusion.
The movie starts to quick skip its way to that eventual end. I doubt I’m spoiling anything by saying that a cartoon concludes positively. Humans become involved in the story and with them, voice acting and the safer traditions of animation. Not the safest though, and that’s the real delight. The corporate sponsored Axiom environment is a sharp satirical view of our present condition, with 84oz “lunch in a cup” resembling movie theater soda, an increasingly overweight populace, and a status quo that depicts each person speaking and interacting with a small screen rather than each other. It would still be a couple of years before every other subway seat would bare the same behavior on our way to work.
The dialogue is still comparatively sparse and nothing is offensive to intelligence. The chase scenes always move the plot forward rather than distract from it (see: Ratatouille), the characters aren’t overly cartoony (see: Up), and most importantly the social message isn’t shoved down your throat with parent-child lectures and uninventive metaphors (see: The Incredibles).
The result is less concerned with driving the argument and more about unveiling the social, psychological, and ethical corruption that feeds destructive production/consumption patterns, that which transforms everything including our mind, body, and spirit into something that would terrify our ancestors. What sets this picture apart from the rest of Pixar’s Academy Award winners is that it’s beyond impressive, to the point of urgent relevance.
I never thought I’d say this of something that wasn’t hand drawn, but WALL*E is the finest American animated film ever created, and I only attach the nationality disclaimer with foreign fare in mind that is in no way suitable for children both from the standpoint of advanced philosophy and objectionable content.
Overall Score: 9.30 – Supreme (We’re lucky if even one film a year scores between 9.00 and 9.50, and these instant classics will go down as some of the best movies we’ve ever seen in our lives)