Of all of the entirely 3D animated films that have been released, Pixar is the only movie studio that has a perfect track record of audience satisfaction – both critically and at the box office. Their newest offering of a robot tending to the earth’s cleanup due to laziness and gluttony of humankind could be the first polarizing film they’ve ever produced.
So we’ll start with the good… Where the film shines is in the visual landscapes and power to carry a story with nearly zero dialogue. WALL-E as a robot succeeds in many of the same ways R2D2 does in Star Wars due to his humanistic traits. Unsurprisingly, this is due to not only the talent of the many animators, but also the vocal work and sound design of Ben Burtt whose work with R2 and the audio of Star Wars is legend. The silent comedy of WALL-E‘s mannerisms and simple personality really comes across amazingly without speech and his childish naievity. The vistas of future Earth in warm, dusty browns that he works alone in contrasts strikingly with the pure, clean interiors of the distant human spaceship with its spectacular lighting and reflections at every corner. WALL-E‘s trailer that he lives in is beautifully adorned with the many items he finds amongst the refuse left behind. In this film, one man’s trash is another robot’s treasure.
The design of EVE, WALL-E’s love interest, is a great counterpoint to the grimy little worker bot, with her glossy, white curves bringing Apple-inspired hardware to mind. Her gradual admiration of WALL-E is nicely punctuated by their intimate moments on Earth, and when she realizes how much WALL-E cares for her near the climax of the film, it brings a huge amount of heart to the story amongst the interestingly gloomy plot. In her design, she also perfectly drives home the aesthetic of perfection in consumer product design that our society seems compelled to achieve.
Now for what some may consider to be the bad: When I saw the movie, my ultra-conservative, far-right friend Ryan absolutely loathed the film. He proclaimed it to be “the most evil, anti-human thing he’s ever seen.” Now, I understand why he thinks this. WALL-E is a scary movie. The film is unapologetic in its message. Essentially it reads, “If we don’t take care of Earth, we’re doomed.” In WALL-E, humans are near invalids, never lifting a finger since robots take care of the work. No one walks, barely have interaction with one another, and have terribly limited intelligence due to being brainwashed from birth by megacorporation BnL (an obvious Wal-Mart jab) to convince them that capitalism is their best friend. This is a liberal film. Anyone who watches Fox News is going to hate it. If Ann Coulter is your hero, you’re going to hate it. WALL-E is a pro-environment cautionary tale from start to finish that despite its fantasy and science fiction, feels real enough to scare audiences straight to care about global warming and recycling and all of the things right-wing folks just can’t stand.
I still think this movie’s merits outweigh the political message. In fact, I think its pretty brave of Pixar to attempt this movie in the political climate that we’re in. Ultimately, the story still has the timeless feel of a fable. The concept is not a new one. At its core, it’s the same story in The Matrix – machines give us a perfect virtual world that we grow to realize is not preferred to the truths of the real world. WALL-E is the same story, made cute and visually breathtaking, and made in a way children can understand, albeit with a liberal slant that adults can continue to argue for years to come.
In the canon of Pixar films, it really stands alone. I don’t believe that it’s better than Toy Story, Monsters Inc., or The Incredibles – but it could definitely stand high with Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, or Cars.
Where should it end up on my list? I’d guess somewhere above 500, but not in my top 100.