Perhaps I am biased towards “Wall-E,” having hyped it up so much to myself after hearing about the famous table meeting between the geniuses at Pixar. The story goes that back in 1994, before “Toy Story,” Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Docter and Joe Ranft all sat down for a now legendary lunch. All four were the top creative minds at Pixar: Lasseter now heads Disney’s animation division, Stanton wrote and directed “Finding Nemo,” to name a few successes. From this luncheon spawned the ideas that became “A Bug’s Life,” “Monster’s, Inc.,” and “Finding Nemo.” Yet after all of these movies were released, there was still one story from that lunch that had not yet come to fruition: “Wall-E.” Though to be fair Pixar has had success outside of these lunchtime ideas with “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.” But the origin of “Wall-E” puts the tiny robot in good company.
Stanton wrote and directed this virtually silent film about the last robot left on Earth. The film is set 800 years into the future after the human’s have deserted the planet for a luxury cruiseliner in space. Due to their extreme consumption, from the corporation turned government Buy N’ Large, the Earth is a virtual wasteland of trash and what used to be. In an attempt to clean the earth, Buy N’ Large invented a fleet of tiny robots to clean up the trash while the humans were gone, but centuries later there is only one left.
Wall-E (stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth class) does what he was programmed to do everyday, scoop trash into bite size pieces, but he’s the last of his kind and has developed one quirk: a personality. While Wall-E frustratingly builds skyscrapers of trash everyday, he also fishes through the piles for what he perceives are treasures. Its charming to see what a robot without any context of human possessions finds valuable (like throwing away a wedding ring to keep the box it was in).
Wall-E is such a charismatic character, it’s amazing that Stanton is able to get away with it. He makes maybe four noises the entire movie and much of the first act is without dialogue. This is difficult because all the empathy and attachment felt for Wall-E is achieved through pantomiming and the interpretation of different noises. The same goes for the rest of the robots, but they are less important, as the success of this film depends entirely on the audience’s ability to feel for Wall-E. And it works.
I have heard complaints that the movie is boring or slow or drags, but I think people need to take a second look at the film. Its so rich of color and texture and life and detail, the guys at Pixar did not miss a beat. This is one of the first Pixar films to be animated like it was filmed. There are deep focus compositions, camera moves, zooms, and a strong sense of lighting. The animation is so genuinely real and authentic and Stanton shows his ability to control a virtual camera like a real one in his choices of such cinematic compositions. It may seem subtle, but it is a huge leap for the animation giant that this may be the first film where the technology does not limit the story but the other way around.
In fact, the film harkens back to the silent era like no other movie this year. With the removal of dialogue, the audience is forced to interpret the emotions of characters through pantomiming and musical cues. Stanton said that when he wrote this script he wrote actual dialogue for the robots that the sound designers and animators had to translate. Like the old silent movies, the movie is extremely visual in telling its story because it has to be. Whereas there existed no audio in the silent era, the context of “Wall-E” doesn’t allow him to speak like a human. If anything, I think the film is more appealing in that it didn’t solve this problem by letting “Wall-E” become some second-rate talking Johnny Five. This is what differentiates Pixar as the best animation studio, it isn’t afraid of these seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
As well as the pantomiming, the movie relies heavily on the score composed by Thomas Newman. Not since somebody like John Williams has a composer sounded so distinct and authentic as Newman. He composed “Finding Nemo” for Stanton and returns here to provide an even more memorable, more chilling and more futuristic piece of work. Music is always something that many people will ignore in a film unless it sticks out, but Newman provides “Wall-E” with such a beautiful piece of music that I believe it’s responsible for many of the films best scenes. Newman under Stanton’s direction has such a strong hand on the tone of this movie and on every scene that its hard to imagine what the film would be like without it. He is never too boisterous in his music, he creeps along with the story and sneaks up on moments of genuine sincerity and love to provide sweeping, yet non-cliché musical boosts.
Whether or not I was biased before the movie came out, “Wall-E” did not dissapoint me at all. In fact, it was better than I expected as a film and wonderful as a movie. I make the differentiation because the animators stepped away from the tradition of “cartoons” and turned “Wall-E” into a film in the way it was shot, designed, and composed. Wall-E is one of the most unique characters to be print to film. Coupled with Thomas Newman’s score, Andrew Stanton took one of the biggest leaps of faith by making a virtually silent film and it pays off in dividends.
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard
Synopsis: Wall-E is the last robot on Earth still cleaning up the trash his human makers left behind when he embarks on an incredible adventure
Runtime: 98 minutes