Fri 27 Jun 2008
I think I know what Christmas card I’ll be sending out this year.
2008 GOLDEN MUG WINNER:
Best Animated Film
2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:
Best Score (Thomas Newman)
Best Sound (Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood, Tom Myers and Michael Semanick)
Before I get to talking about “WALL·E”, let me first give a little run-down of the Pixar animated short “Presto” which runs right before the film. As has become a trademark of theirs, the Pixar crew give a little something extra to the audience in the throwback form of a short film. “Presto” is about a magician with an amazing set of hats and a hungry bunny, who just wants his carrot.
The story is ultra-cute and very funny, as the bunny must find a way to get his carrot from the magician who wants him to first do the magic act for the audience. But this bunny needs his vitamin A first, and this test of wills is easily one of my favorite Pixar shorts. So make sure to arrive in plenty of time because you don’t want to miss it. (The times are clearly posted online and at the theater, why is it so hard to get to a movie on time? You know the traffic sucks and the popcorn line is long. Plan ahead.)
And now for our feature presentation: If you’re looking for the surest bet in theaters this year, it’s Pixar’s latest film, “WALL·E”. Their track record of making great animated films remains unblemished and I daresay that this is my favorite of them all. That’s right, I said it. It’s better than “Toy Story”, it’s better than “Monsters, Inc.” (my previous favorite) and it’s better than the exalted “Finding Nemo”.
Speaking of “Finding Nemo”, that’s where we last found director/co-writer of WALL·E, Andrew Stanton. He’s been one of the pillars at Pixar since “Toy Story” and his commitment to making quality films has never waned. Here again, he has worked with his talented team and crafted a story brimming with imagination, humor and heart. It really is sort of sad that so few live action movies can hold a candle to many of the Pixar films when it comes to creating awe and wonder (yes, I’m looking at you “Love Guru“).
In “WALL·E”, we begin on Earth hundreds of years in the future. The human race has dumped so much trash as to make the planet uninhabitable and the Buy n Large corporation (the Wal-Mart of the future) hatches a plan to send everyone out into space on a fully automated luxury space-cruise liner while a mass of robots (Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-Class or WALL·E) clean up the place. What was thought could be done in 5 years ends up being 700 and the human race have slothed their way into hover-chairs and mindless minding by their robotic caretakers.
While all of his brethren have since ceased to function, WALL·E is still going strong on the third planet from the sun, collecting nostalgic items like Rubik’s cubes, sporks and lighters (I especially like, and believe, that Twinkies are still good 700 years in the future). He has a pet cockroach (cutest cucaracha ever, go to hell “Joe’s Apartment”) which helps keep the pace of the beginning scenes moving because it allows WALL·E to interact with something other than the music and TV he enjoys when he’s not building skyscrapers out of compacted trash. One fateful day, a spaceship lands and deposits Eve, a futuristic robot that captures WALL·E’s imagination and heart. The two strike up a relationship so real I had to keep reminding myself that not only am I watching two robots, but they’re computer animated.
Sure, I’ve heard some cynics are saying that WALL·E is basically this generation’s Johnny-5 (who is alive) … and I see similarities. Maybe that was an inspiration to Stanton and crew. I simply could care less though because even if it is a huge rip-off (which I don’t think it is), the bottom line is that the film is simply wonderful and far better from a cinema standpoint than “Short Circuit” – though nostalgia is a tough thing to quantify.
I’ve also heard concerns about the fact that you have a film where there isn’t any dialogue (though there are music and video clips) for the first 30 minutes and the two main characters have a vocabulary that consists of their names and very little else. Well, fear not because none of that matters when you have such great filmmakers, great characters and a great story in which to lose yourself. I didn’t even think about this matter until I was writing this review and wanted to make sure I covered my bases. WALL·E and Eve manage to communicate volumes, through their actions and even in the way they intonate their names.
Now, while he really only has two words in his vocabulary (WALL·E and Eve), if you think you’ve heard WALL·E’s voice before, you just might have. Actor Ben Burtt, who mostly has been behind the camera working in the sound department on some of the biggest film franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, did the voice of the droid being tortured in Jabba’s palace in “Return of the Jedi”. That screaming and high-pitched wailing might ring a bell in some of you Star Wars fanatics’ heads now, huh? (It did in mine once I found out.)
The other pivotal voice work to pull off was that of Eve. Elissa Knight beautifully captures a vast depth of emotion even with such limited diction. Kudos also to the sound department for being able to tweak the voices of the robots to make them sound not just robotic but also carry the emotional content necessary to keep the characters alive in teh audiences’ minds. More than a few times, my eyes welled up as either WALL·E or Eve long for each other’s touch and attention … and there are a couple of events that will tug at the heartstrings of everyone, even if you’re the Grinch (pre-Cindy Lou Who no less).
And although that might sound a little weird, make no mistake – while this is a kid-friendly film with lots of comedy, good animation and great storytelling … “WALL·E” is quite a romantic film and easily the best date movie in years. (People, if you want some lovin’, take your significant others to this film … thank me later.)
There is one actual person in the film, Fred Willard, who plays the President and CEO of Buy n Large. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, appearing in taped videos helping to explain what’s happened on Earth and as a result, but his trademark brand of humor is on full display and added another fun element to the mix.
Of course, there are also other great CGI supporting characters, robotic and human alike, that help to round out the world WALL·E lives in and provide opportunities to use full blow sentences and dialogue (since WALL·E and Eve don’t have the capacity to “say” much with words and instead rely beautifully and poignantly on their actions). Most notably there’s the spaceship Captain, an automated pilot (lifted seemingly with respect and as an homage from “2001″) and a little cleaning droid hellbent on decontaminating WALL·E. There’s also a whole other group of misfit robots that WALL·E meets on the ship, which while they don’t receive a lot of screen time, are some of the keys to the success of WALL·E and Eve’s quest. Their inclusion sealed the deal on the film and added that little touch that really made the entire project shine.
While they never get preachy about it, the message of being responsible about the planet and not letting the technological age lull us into a lazy stupor is evident throughout. That message may be how the filmmakers were able to rope Peter Gabriel into doing the closing credits song, but that’s neither here nor there.
And speaking of the songs, once again Pixar has delivered. This may be the first animated film I buy the soundtrack of, or at least from which I collect the songs I don’t already own. From Louis Armstrong to a host of songs from the musical “Hello, Dolly!” which marry beautifully with the story, where the robots don’t have much to say, the music fills in any gaps excellently and only adds to the beauty of the film.
From top to bottom, “WALL·E” delivers all of the emotions and touchstones audiences want when they plop down their $842 to see a film. I had a big grin on my face from the beginning of the short film all the way to the end (minus the parts where I dabbed water from my eyes … must have been humid … couldn’t have been tears … nosiree, Bob). Perhaps the deciding factor in proclaiming this my favorite Pixar film is the terrific pacing. Whereas each and every other film has that breakdown moment, accompanied by some sad piano song, here those moments feel much more organic and don’t drag on like they normally do. Instead of simply wishing to get to the next scene, you’re more anticipating what will happen next because you’ve become so invested in the characters.
“WALL·E” is an easy 5 out of 5 and easily one of my favorite films of the year so far. When it was over (and after the audience had finished applauding, giving the best reaction to a screening I’ve heard in years), I just wanted to watch it again … and don’t walk out when the credits start rolling.
Like just about every film these days, there are things to watch in the credits. While there isn’t a new scene at the end, while the credits are rolling there are a number of different elements to watch. First, you’ll be treated to seeing the characters represented through different styles as the art periods progress (hieroglyphics, pointillism, impressionism, etc). Then there’s a very funny 8-bit rendition of the film’s story. Each of these is interesting and fun to watch so don’t rush right back to your cars once they turn up the house lights.