Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: June 27, 2008
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard
By Ethan Aames
Nostalgic Disney fans may say that the best Disney characters were introduced decades ago during the golden years. As Pixar grew into Disney’s family starting with “Toy Story” in 1995, audiences and children were blessed with Buzz Lightyear and Woody but one wonders whether the likes of Nemo (from “Finding Nemo”), Lightning McQueen (from “Cars”) and Remy (from “Ratatouille”) will stand the test of time in the coming years. But rest assured that Disney and Pixar haven’t lost their magic, as “Wall-E” will surely become Disney’s next great classic for generations to come.
“Wall-E” is Disney and Pixar’s best picture since the first “Toy Story” and is arguably just as groundbreaking. Sure, the animation is once again state of the art but with every passing year, it’s become a staple of a Pixar film to raise the bar. Instead, co-writer and director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”) takes a calculated risk by telling a story with almost no dialogue from its main characters. Instead of child humor, spectacular action sequences and adventures through landscapes, “Wall-E” relies on the simple interactions between two characters. The end result? One of the most imaginative and creative stories to come out of Hollywood cinema in the past decade.
The story of “Wall-E” is really broken out into two parts. In a not-so-subtle message about humans and global consumption, we’re taken 700 years into the future where Earth has become inhabitable and the last remaining humans now live in a giant spaceship far from the planet. A lone robot named Wall-E (which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class) spends his days gathering garbage, compacting it into neat squares, and stacking and arranging them neatly in piles. His routine is methodical: he wakes up in the day and retires to his dwelling at night. But during the day, Wall-E collects anything he finds of interest: spare parts from other broken Wall-E models, a Rubik’s cube, a lighter – anything he thinks will be of use or interest in the future. His one companion is a cockroach that accompanies him during the day.
At night, Wall-E reflects upon the items he’s collected but also returns to a battered VHS tape of “Hello, Dolly!”, the 1969 Gene Kelly-directed musical starring Walter Matthau and Barbra Streisand. He watches the tape and mimics the dance moves thinking that’s how humans behaved. He plays out loud Michael Crawford’s performance of “Put Your Sunday Clothes On!” and hums to the music as he works. But one particular scene involving the characters in the movie, holding hands in fondness, gets to Wall-E, as he realizes that being a lone robot in the world, he has no personal connections of his own.
His routine is changed, however, when a spaceship appears out of nowhere and leaves behind a robot named EVE. Wall-E is instantly smitten by EVE and approaches her to learn her name. In a puppy love sequence, we see Wall-E and EVE learn each other’s names as they try to pronounce the syllables of the other’s model. Wall-E takes EVE back to his home and gives her a gift he uncovered earlier: a small, fledgling plant growing out of a flower pot. EVE is immediately struck by this, buries the plant in her system and shuts herself off.
It turns out that the plant is evidence that life is sustainable on Earth and EVE’s mission is now complete. Wall-E follows EVE back to the mother spaceship and so begins the second part of the film. As EVE is instructed to deliver her findings to the Captain of the ship, she is thwarted by the Ship’s Computer (seemingly modeled after HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey”), as the Ship’s Computer has been given explicit instructions by one of Earth’s largest corporations to never come back to the planet. EVE is set in her mission to make sure the Captain receives the information and Wall-E, being the supportive friend that he is, assists her with her objective.
My guest at the screening for “Wall-E” was commenting that she thought “Wall-E” would be great for her nieces but was wondering if kids in this day and age of flashy anime cartoons and sugar-ridden A.D.D. entertainment would be able to tolerate a slightly different kind of feature. Much of the interaction of the robots is successfully communicated through Wall-E’s binocular-like eyes and EVE’s giant digital shapes. There is a special type of sweetness between the two characters that span all ages and is universally touching. More so, much like how Steven Spielberg was able to harness that sense of child isolation and joy of friendship discovery in “E.T.”, “Wall-E” is able to tap into the heart and emotions of the viewers through two simple but endearing characters. It’s hard to imagine that there will be many who won’t fall under Wall-E’s charms. The Best Animated Feature at next year’s Oscars has already been decided but “Wall-E” is worthy of at least a nomination as this year’s Best Picture.