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Minireview: Wall-E August 4, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies.
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I finally got around to seeing Wall-E a little while back, and as much as I’ve always been a big fan of the Pixar material, I must confess that I enjoyed this movie but wasn’t thrilled with it. I agreed with my gracious host that I was glad I got to see it for free, courtesy Paramount Studios’ screening schedule.

Maybe it was all the hype about the movie, or it’s 96% Rotten Tomatoes score that built up my expectations, but I didn’t think this movie was the best Pixar has brought us, not by a long shot. I’d give that nod to both Toy Storys, as well as the Brad Bird material (The Incredibles & Ratatouille)

The opening 40 minutes or so, depicting Wall-E performing his trash compacting tasks hundreds of years beyond their expectations in a desolate future Earth laid waste by consumerism, are pretty interersting, though the laughs are merely chuckles and much of the time I was waiting for more of a story to kick in. Once Eve arrives and it does, the film gets better (even if despite having cartoon robot characters, the film follows the current PC-stereotype of making its male character a fumbling dork and its female character attractive to the male, tough as nails, and totally competent through and through).

How can you tell a female robot from a male one anyway? And if they can feel emotions and are sentient beings, doesn’t that make it immoral that they are programmed to perform tasks for lazy humans and have no free will of their own? And am I taking this way too seriously? But really, is there a European cut where we get to see them mate with cute little cartoon vibrators who have endearing Disney-esque personalities?

Cut to Mickey Mouse, in divorce court: “I didn’t say Minnie was insane, your honor, I said…” Oh, you know the rest of THAT old joke.

It’s clever how all of the expressions and feelings of the robots, especially Eve, must be done merely through the shape of the “eyes.” The only dialogue between the two are each other’s names, so watching their relationship develop is pure cinema, to be sure. And there are some wonderful moments in this movie – Wall-E & Eve’s dance/flight through space, or when Eve reviews her security tapes and discovers what a sweet li’l garbageman Wall-E truly is.

Wall-E is an unconscious rebel throughout the film – much the way he is detected by a janitorbot on board the spaceship Axiom as bringing in “foreign contaminant” (soil from Earth), his very nature is a foreign contaminant to a static and altogether numbing system that’s been in place for as long as anyone on board can remember. Wherever Wall-E goes on the Axiom, he breaks down the routines that both humans and robots have grown lazily used to. Much the way soil gives birth to life on Earth (as well as a plant that is central to the plot), Wall-E gives birth to life within the souls and behaviors of all the characters he encounters, from Eve to the janitorbot to a random human couple (who only become a couple once Wall-E makes them aware of each other’s existence) to the Captain of the Axiom who rediscovers his human curiosity and literally learns to walk upright as he “evolves.”

In the end, though, we get a fable of modern times – extrapolating our current culture of overweight morons driving enormous cars & talking on their cell phones instead of actually noticing & enjoying the things in life worth noticing & enjoying since they’re too busy consuming (hence the “BuyNLarge” megacorporation that destroyed the Earth in the backstory). Was I the only one who saw the irony in a film critical of consumerism running credits at the end urging me to buy the soundtrack, video game, and numerous toy tie-ins?

Funny how a kid’s cartoon has the same vibe as the 1970s eco-apocalypto genre that gave us Soylent Green, Silent Running or even Logan’s Run. Evidently, I am not alone in sensing this parallel. It’s worth a look and I liked it better than Cars or A Bug’s Life, I suppose, but I still don’t get why people were raving about this as much as they did. Now, if they made a cartoon out of Soylent Green, THAT’S worth some hype!

By the way, a real highlight of seeing this film is the Tex Avery-esque Pixar short preceding it, Presto, which takes one simple idea of a magic hat and mines it for as much comedy gold as it can. I’d love to see a feature with that level of inventive humor…

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