WALL-E (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Andrew Stanton
viewed: 06/28/08 at Century San Francisco Centre, SF, CA

The latest from Pixar (Ratatouille (2007), Cars (2006), Monsters, Inc. (2001)), the cream of the American digital feature animation crop, WALL-E, is an attempt at the higher eschelons of art and movie magic.  And it almost gets there.  It comes close.

Directed by Andrew Stanton whose previous directing effort was Finding Nemo (2003), WALL-E is a dystopic vision of the future of Earth and humanity.  It’s so dystopic that humans have become fat, boneless, actionless entities, and it’s the robots that have developed “humanity”.  In fact, it takes robots to teach humans how to be human again.

It’s hundreds of years in the future.  Earth has been abandoned by humans because it’s so full of trash that it’s become totally uninhabitable.  The last of a line of clean-up robots, a mobile trash compactor, WALL-E himself, is the last “man” on Earth, friends with an unkillable, unsquishable faceless cockroach.  But he’s lonely.  He longs for a culture of humanity and communion that he only knows through more cultural effluvia, the the flotsam and jetsam in which he toils.

Human beings, meanwhile, have become portly and indolent, hovering on chairs and using no muscle, attached to video screens so that they no longer see the world at all, nor one another.  They float in space in a ship that was cultivated by commerce.  Beyond all this, WALL-E is a critique of consumer culture (though ironic if you want to get down to it because though the whole “consumerism” that it critiques is vague while much of the cultural items that it adores like the Rubik’s Cube and Pong are actual artifacts of consumerism).

It must be said that any movie produced by Disney, a corporate and cultural powerhouse of consumerism, for it to try to critique consumerism is highly at odds with itself.

The film is also an odd love-hate with modern design and an appreciation for pre-digitalized design.  WALL-E himself is something that looks expressly like the robot of Short Circuit (1986), though was apparently inspired simply by a pair of binoculars.  The film has a distinct appreciation with animating the inanimate, or perhaps robots or constructs that don’t reek of anthropormorphism.  The film excels at the animation and personality given to less readily character-like creations.  It’s part of its aesthetic.  The animate (humans) have become inanimate while the machines, the inanimate, the non-beings, have become beings.  And they are.  And they inspire the humans to become human again.

Largely wordless, though not entirely, WALL-E is also an attempt at a non-verbal narrative largely.  This, along with its simplistic themes of love, humanity, and hope, packed in with a score that pretty much tells the audience how to feel pushes hard for the sensation of movie magic.

Movie magic.  The ultimate of cultural alchemies.  I guess, if you come down to it, the film’s biggest weakness is its belief that it is achieving magic.  It’s certainly been marketed that way.  The scene in which WALL-E, clinging to a rocketship, lifts his hand to “touch” the stars as they pass them and they move and sparkle as he utters a sound of awe…  Genuine magic is not so self-aware, I would think.  I would hope.

WALL-E is very good, very enjoyable, very well-produced.  It’s just not as simple and remarkable as it would like to come off.

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