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Sunday, January 25, 2009

(Late) REVIEW - "Wall-E" (2008)

Last year I was enormously disappointed with Pixar’s “Ratatouille.” It was a film stuck in the typical Pixar formula that hasn’t worked as well since “Toy Story.” I noted that something new and fresh was needed to keep the magic in Pixar’s rather impressive line-up. “Wall-E” was just that and more.

I make it no secret I have very little love for films that have environmental “messages.” I thought “An Inconvenient Truth” was an inconvenient joke. Nature programming wasn’t my thing until “Planet Earth” came along. (And I’m not afraid to admit the upcoming “Earth” looks beautiful.) “The Happening” is an example of an environmental movie gone very, very wrong. It’s a film I wish not to think of ever again. So when I say “Wall-E” is the most effective movie in this category I’ve seen in awhile, it says a lot. “Wall-E” has heart without giving us a character with one. It says plenty without giving us a great deal of dialogue. And it’s relentless creativity and inspiration places it as Pixar’s best film since “Toy Story.”

A small robot, Wall-E, (Waste Allocator Load Lifter Earth-Class) is left alone on Earth, many years after mankind has abandoned it. Left to clean up man’s trash with his roach friend, Wall-E’s “world” is thrown for a loop when Eve arrives on Earth. Eve is sent to Earth to see if life has been restored. Wall-E shows her the only plant life left and they disembark to the Axiom, where mankind resides in a rather lazy state controlled by machines. A struggle between Wall-E, Eve and the humans against the less friendly machines ensues to make it back to Earth. But can it sustain life?

Pixar’s always had a way of inspiring people through the darkest situations. This is the first time where the human element of survival really takes a central roll. It includes the disposal of apathy and the care of the planet.

“Wall-E” also puts today in perspective-- So often do we see the darkest of films show how trends, gizmos and disposable commodities control us. The idea has become something of a cliché in recent years and it feels forced in even the most effective movies. “Wall-E” takes a more literal direction with it. On the Axiom mankind is huge and bulbous. They’re carted around by hover chairs, always looking into computers to talk to people and are only distracted when the latest “trend” is previewed. This is an amusing way to frame the American society and it doesn’t take away from how eerie it feels too. It’s simply that if this isn’t to be the shape of things to come we are to take better care and attention with ourselves.

Wall-E himself is more of a catalyst for the story than a character. What he cares about most is Eve and her mission. Whether or not these two machines are aware that mankind needs to learn from their mistakes and survive is irrelevant. Their journey centers around a certain beauty for each other that humanity seems to have forgotten. One of the most flattering scenes between these two characters is their “dance” outside the Axiom. The gorgeous rays left from their flight begin to inspire people within the ship and thus the reason to live is made evident: To survive is to stay on the Axiom. To live is to find beauty. Something that only Earth can provide in their current situation.

Wall-E’s character is also very interesting to compare to the villain of the film, Wheel. Wheel is a fantastic villain, beautifully inspired by Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I found it interesting that, despite all the environmental preaching going on, “Wall-E” wasn’t afraid to admit man-made machines are, in fact, needed. But there’s a line. Wall-E and Eve are two machines created for the purpose of helping mankind. Whereas Wheel is a machine created to govern them. I’ve never seen anything displayed quite like this in film. It felt extremely… well… honest.

The animation is also a lot of fun. The attention to detail borderlines “Star Wars” nerdom. It’s a lot of fun. The introduction to the many “malfunctioned” robots and the enormous Wall-As are staggering. And as cool as the Axiom’s interior is, it’s also easy to see how mankind became the lazy blobs they are. The hover-seats, the self-swung tennis rackets… it all adds up to how the Axiom was the perfect and worst residential for mankind.

The film’s finale built up enough drama to be tear-jerking. Wall-E and Eve’s relationship is brought full circle and the difference between “programming” and decisions are made clear. It seems to vaguely mirror what Wheel felt humankind was suppose to do on the Axiom, and what the Captain decided to do in the end. It builds up a powerful amount of beauty for both its characters and its meaning. Who knew a kids movie could be so smart?

“Wall-E” is a rare piece. While children will no doubt love the hysterical antics of Wall-E, older audiences will have something to chew on as the characters unfold some very unique ideas. Granted, the movie does come off a bit preachy sometimes, but the way it delivers its significance should be applauded. “Wall-E” is a rare movie indeed. It’s a film in a genre that tends to be overlooked as great art and, like “The Dark Knight,” defies those restrictions with wonderful grace. “Wall-E” is just another reason why the summer of 2008 was more impressive than the fall.

**** out of ****

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