Sunday, June 29, 2008

WALL•E is Wondrous

Some time after Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Finding Nemo, critics stopped beginning (or ending) their reviews with the question of when Pixar would get it wrong, when Pixar would stumble, or when Pixar would lose that magical quality that allows it to continually put out hit after ingenious and lovable hit. Like Anton Ego, Pixar has reduced film reviewers to simply fans; instead of contemptuously wondering when it would end, they began to wonder how much farther Pixar could go. And with good reason. WALL•E, the newest Pixar creation, does nothing to fall off course. It tackles more, and succeeds in every possible way.

It is a "G" rated children's movie that encompasses everything from politics to environmentalism to the nature of love, and yet doesn't feel preachy or as if it is imparting a lesson from on high. And it does so by, in the words of the New York Time reviewer AO Scott, acknowledging that "the paradox at the heart of "WALL•E is that the drive to invent new things and improve the olds ones -to buy and sell and make and collect- creates the potential for disaster and also the possible path away from it". It is the classic nature of a tragedy: that which is our greatest strength is our greatest weakness. At the beginning of WALL•E, we are presented with the end of the tragedy; after we have destroyed the planet and abandoned it. But it would not be a children's film -or at least not one released in conjunction with the Disney name- if it did not end in triumph.

The movie, though, does contain some fairly eery scenes and images. First up is, of course, the earth; covered in trash skyscrapers on the ground and surrounded by bits of space junk; our beautiful planet is thoroughly trashed. Massive dust storms threaten our hero and his pet cockroach. And it is utterly deserted. The most chilling Twilight episodes featured futures of this nature; as do the most frightening horror films, the ones where no one is left. And then there are the people, when we do find them. Doughy-fat and impossibly disengaged from their peers, these humans have lost the ability to walk. A scene that is both funny and alarming is one that shows what happens when one of them falls off of his hover-recliner. Unable to lift himself up, he lays helplessly for robot assistance; meanwhile, traffic is rerouted (and we may be able to take some lesson about traffic control away from this), and a robotic voice soothingly says, "Please remain stationary". Then there is what seems to be the degeneration of the education system, with youngsters being taught their ABCs via the Wal-Mart-esque corporation, here called Buy 'n Large, and the Captain not understanding how to work a book. And, of course, the robots. In a world that pulls from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the robots take orders from a long-ago given protocol.

Pixar has done what it has done in the past, and delivered a child's film with adult themes. The love story and the cuteness of WALL•E, his devotion to EVE, will keep kids engaged. As will the overall message of environmentalism and the indomitable spirit of humans -once it has been activated, of course. But for adults there is the repeated message of "Stay the course", used repeatedly by President Bush and echoed by BnL's CEO and the world's president. Pixar also highlights the wasteful laziness of consumer culture by having WALL•Rs, larger WALL•Es for the space ship, simply box up our junk and catapult it into space, and by having the continued message of the BnL Corporation be that Earth has become uninhabitable and not worth saving. It is the captain, educated by his computer as to the beauties of earth and dancing, and WALL•E and EVE and other rogue robots who champion the opposite message once hope of life has sprung up in the form of a tiny plant.

In the end, Pixar does what it does best. It makes WALL•E, EVE, M-O, and even the cockroach seem interminably human. It makes the humans that as well. And it cleverly references and alludes to other aspects of popular culture, like WALL•E's obsession with "Hello, Dolly". It has a philosophy beyond fun and hijinks, though there are plenty of those as well. And it focuses on the goodness that exists within us, even if it is sometimes subdued or atrophied. The humans of the future aren't evil; just ignorant. And Pixar manages to make going outside seem cooler than sitting home and playing with the Wii or Playstation, makes talking to the person next to you on the subway seem more fun than talking on a cellphone or listening to an iPod. It stretches the boundaries of what a child's film can be, what it can say, and what mediums it can encompass. In short, WALL•E succeeds in almost every way.


jjfs85 said...

I disagree with you about the preachy feeling of the movie. It felt that way to me, but I didn't mind it so much because my views on where our future's headed are the same as theirs.

petpluto said...

I think it had a definite political bent, but I don't think it was anywhere near a movie like Happy Feet, or even Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, in terms of overtly whacking people over the head with the errors of their ways. It was a dystopian vision of the future, and it contained a "Be Careful" sidebar.

But I thought they were able to get across a message without actually stating it -except once when Auto told the captain that life on earth was unsustainable and there was no hope and the captain said that there was life down there and they had to do it because there was always hope.

jjfs85 said...

^ spoilers above!!!!!!