For some reason I never get to see Pixar films on their initial release. There’s always something that comes up and prevents me from going to the theatre for weeks at a time. I don’t remember what conspired to keep me from seeing WALL-E in 2008, but it took me until now to finally have the opportunity to watch it.

There are always some questions raised when watching a beloved film several years after everybody who made it a beloved film. I knew WALL-E was a major box-office success. I knew it won the Best Animated Feature award at the Oscars. I did not know why. Was this a case where the hype fed on itself? A case where peoples’ emotions ran away with them, and a few years later it wouldn’t have as much impact? Was this a case where some hype was deserved, but the hype given exceeds the quality of the film, leading to potential disappointment? Or was it simply a case where the film truly earned the hype?

WALL-E earns the hype.

WALL-E earns a hip replacement.

On a barren wasteland of a future Earth, WALL-E is the last apparent robot of his kind, tasked with cleaning up the garbage that mankind has left behind. Pixar’s usual attention to detail is immediately apparent here, as well as their desire to stretch the boundaries of computer-rendered animation. Where Monsters Inc. stretched the boundaries regarding hair and fur, and Finding Nemo did so regarding water, WALL-E stretches the boundaries of grime and dust and particle physics. Winds blow dust everywhere, and WALL-E tracks dirt everywhere, and it all looks very, very believable. If the desolation of an entire planet can be considered pretty, WALL-E is a very pretty film.

And WALL-E, the main character, is adorable in a beat-up ramshackle sort of way. He’s carefully designed to be so, of course; short in stature, with big wide eyes and a meek and comical mannerism, he’s immediately charming. He doesn’t speak much — until some humans enter the picture there’s very little speech at all in the film — but he conveys a lot of emotion despite the lack of anything really resembling a face. It’s all in the eyes and his hand gestures.

Humanity is doomed, for the robots have discovered puppy-dog eyes.

It may seem odd to give a simple worker drone complex emotions, and this thought crossed my mind while watching the film. Later it’s implied that WALL-E is genuinely different in that respect — his emotional needs and curio-collecting aren’t reflected among most other robots, suggesting that something happened in the past to trigger WALL-E’s growth into a genuine personality. But whether it was accident or design, WALL-E’s emotions drive the plot of the film, and work to keep the audience engaged. We laugh at the little bot, we cheer for the little bot, and we feel sorry for the little bot. Above all, we care about the little bot. We wind up caring about the other characters as well. The Captain of the Axiom shows that the human spirit can triumph even when it has never before been given the opportunity to know the need to triumph.

My one complaint about the film is the use of Fred Willard as a CEO in “archive footage”. Fred Willard is a funny comic actor, and these scenes are every bit as funny as one would expect. But director Andrew Stanton chose to have these scenes filmed in live-action; there is also some live-action archive footage from Hello Dolly. The Hello Dolly footage mostly works because it’s not contrasted with anything in the film, but the Fred Willard footage is shown in close proximity to the animated humans in the film. While some differences in body type are deliberate, the contrast between real-life and cartoon is pretty jarring. He doesn’t look like he’s part of the same reality as the human cartoon characters.

In fairness, Fred Willard doesn’t always seem part of this reality either.

That issue aside, though, WALL-E is a consistently high-quality film. It looks great, and its character designs are charming and effective. The near-silent quality of WALL-E’s character, which could have hampered the audience’s ability to relate to him, instead endears him quickly to the audience. It also helps with the comedy — there’s a sense of timing and grace to the humor in this film that is very reminiscent of the old silent film comic masters. Throw in a few film shout-outs, a healthy dose of adventure, and a lot of heart, and WALL-E is one fantastic film.

Rating: 5 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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21 Responses to WALL-E

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Great review for an extraordinary film (and my favorite film of animation), Morgan! Love it.

  2. My favorite Pixar film. It lived up to my expectation of it based-off the trailer; which hardly ever happens.

    • Trailers do tend to make them look even better than they are, don’t they? I suppose that’s one “advantage” of me viewing these for the first time so long after their release… I don’t remember the trailers as much, so I’m not as influenced by them.

  3. Scophi says:

    Completely agree. This was a well-deserved hit, followed by another blockbuster, ‘Up’. I have yet to see a bad Pixar movie (although I haven’t watched ‘Brave’ or ‘Cars 2’). ‘The Incredibles’ is one of my all-time favorite movies, animated or not. The studio is amazing, averaging almost $600,000,000 worldwide per film (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Pixar_films).

    As for WALL-E’s emotion and maturity, I always chalked that up to the fact that he kept repairing himself with non-standard replacement parts he found in scrap heaps over the years, thereby changing his original specs and creating an unintended awareness. Also, his programming had centuries to adapt/modify to these new parts. But that simply brings up another question, why did WALL-E adapt and repair himself when the other bots didn’t? No idea. But hey, that’s Pixar logic, not Stephen Hawking logic.

    Interestingly, despite developing sentience, WALL-E maintains his original directive, to clean up the trash, until he is given the chance to expand his horizons and change who he is. (Come to think of it, it’s a little scary how quickly the other robots followed suit, like Eve. It makes you think that all robots are just waiting for the opportunity to defy their programming. Hopefully, when this happens…and the history of sci-fi films indicates it always will (Hal, Edgar, Skynet, VIKI, etc) …Asimov’s Three Laws will stay in place to protect us.)

    WALL-E not only becomes self-aware, he becomes master of his own destiny. (Note that this parallels what the humans begin to do at the end. I think there’s a theme here.) To use a fitting metaphor from ‘A Knight’s Tale’, he changed his stars.

    Even more interesting is the fact that this is the first Disney movie (that I can recall) that starts off with the destruction of Earth civilization and the abandonment of our planet. Not a typical setting for a children’s tale. ‘Titan AE’ also took this approach, but I don’t think anyone believes that was a children’s film.

    Overall, this is another visually stunning tale from Disney/Pixar that wonderfully portrays the power of love.

    • I haven’t seen a bad Pixar movie either, though in my case there are rather more gaps yet. Still, I look forward to seeing all of them, even the maligned Cars 2.

      With the other robots following suit, I think it’s worth noting that only EVE and M-O were “functioning properly” at the time WALL-E met them… the robots in the repair ward were all “malfunctioning” to some degree initially, so their independence may have been a part of that. Just speculation, though.

      Definitely right about there being a theme of taking charge of one’s fate in this film. Whole film is pretty much about the difference between letting someone else decide for you and deciding for one’s self. You’re also right about it starting off on a different tone than other children’s films; Titan A.E., like you say, isn’t really a children’s film (though the perception of it being one — or that it should have been one — was one of its problems in the box office).

      • Scophi says:

        I like to believe their “malfunctions” were just their way of asserting their own independent, oddball personalities. I attended a lecture once given by the real Patch Adams who stated that the key to true happiness is to find people as crazy as you and hang out with them. I couldn’t agree more.

        As for Titan AE, it was released too early for real appreciation. I think people are only now getting used to the idea of a grown-up film being animated. It took breakout shows like Beavis & Butthead, South Park, Family Guy, and American Dad for people to start seeing animation as an acceptable adult format. (Well, you know what I mean, right?)

        Too bad it didn’t happen earlier. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within should have received more praise for its accomplishments. And let’s not forget about Aeon Flux, the animated series, not the live-action film.

        • I haven’t seen Aeon Flux, but I hear you on the rest. My feeling was that Titan A.E. was aimed at late teens and young adults — which, since that’s what I was at the time, worked well for me. I’m one of the rare supporters for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within as well. I do think Square should have been smart and left off the “Final Fantasy” part of the name, though… the marketing boost from fans of the video games had no chance of measuring up to the stigma of “it’s based on a video game” to most people. Leave off the video game title, and there’s no such stigma (especially since it really wasn’t connected to any game in the series), and then people might have given it a bit more of a chance.

  4. Damn good Pixar film πŸ˜€

  5. Eric says:

    I’m not a huge Pixar guy (I know, I know!), but damn if I didn’t love Wall-E. I’m more than due to revisit this one. Glad to hear you enjoyed it as well, Morgan.

    • Not a huge Pixar guy?! String him up!! πŸ˜€

      Nah… I haven’t seen enough of Pixar’s films to say they don’t have their share of bad films, and certainly they’re not always going to be the be-all-end-all that people sometimes portray them as. Glad you liked WALL-E.

  6. I’d love to see you do a series of posts in which you review every Pixar film (maybe even in the order they came out!). I adore Pixar, but I’ve yet to see Cars 2 and Brave. The thought makes me die a little inside. πŸ˜›

    • I’ll probably get to just about all of them eventually… πŸ˜€

      The only ones I saw before I started blogging were Toy Story, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. So everything else will get reviewed as I gradually track them down. And it’s certainly possible for the ones I have seen to turn up as well… there isn’t a one of those I wouldn’t be willing to give the “Favorite Films” treatment to.

  7. Classic feeling flick. I think they were really bold to open with the silent segment, and that establishes a ton of credibility going forward. Its amazing how emotive they were able to make that little robot isnt it?

  8. Great review. You really explain what you liked about it, and it makes sense.

    I hated this movie on almost every level, other than Pixar’s bar-raising, fantastic animation. Personally, I always thought that the praise it received for story telling was really over-rated. I liked the animation throughout, and it had a killer opening, with Wall-E just silently doing his thing on Earth. After that, though, I began to lose interest. Nothing in the story was anything I hadn’t seen done before, and (IMHO) done better. It felt like Generic Sci-Fi Cautionary Tale #451. We’re raping the Earth, and our bodies. I get it. (Speaking of which, I couldn’t get over how in the ending after many generations of hovering, we’re still able to walk? I know that’s hair splitting, I just found it ridiculous.)

    I’m not saying revisiting tried and true Sci-Fi staples is a bad thing. I get that when you use as many as Wall-E does, its supposed to be a love letter to the genre. Maybe I reacted to harshly based on the praise it received at the time. I heard too many people say how incredible, fresh, original and fantastic this was, when really it was just really well animated Sci-Fi. I think if I gave it another chance, without so much hype surrounding it, I wouldn’t despise it quite so much anymore.

    • Hype backlash is certainly easy to succumb to, I’ll buy that. And certainly the themes here aren’t unique. Though it’s worth noting director Stanton says the destruction of Earth and obesity of mankind are in the film simply to put the characters where they need to make the story happen; he says they weren’t trying to make any sort of moral point with the film. (But it does come across that way, so….)

      Anyway, I know you’re not alone in having an aversion to this film; I’ve seen it get complaints here and there as well. But I do suspect that if you gave it another chance you might like it a bit better. But thanks for sharing your views regardless. Always enjoy hearing from you.

  9. Great review. Wall-E sure is a fantastic film. Loved it. My favorite Pixar movie is still Ratatouille but this one’s very close behind.

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