Should I Watch..? WALL·E
What's the big deal?
WALL·E is an animated family sci-fi film released in 2008 and is the ninth feature film produced by Pixar Animation Studios. Conceived by director Andrew Stanton back in 1994, the film follows the misadventures of a lonely waste disposal robot left behind on Earth after pollution and over-consumerism have made the planet uninhabitable. His pursuit of a more advanced robot leads him on an intergalactic quest that has grave consequences for both robot-kind and humanity. The film is mostly free of traditional dialogue as many characters communicate via body language and basic robot noises. It is also the first Pixar film to include live-action footage. Released to near-total acclaim from critics, WALL·E went on to gross $521 million worldwide as well as secure another Best Animated Feature Film Oscar for Pixar.
What's it about?
Seven hundreds years after mankind has left the Earth, the long mission to make our planet fit for habitation goes on. The planet is covered in garbage left over from decades of over-consumerism encouraged by the megacorporation Buy 'N' Large or BnL, who constructed vast ships to help evacuate the planet as well as countless numbers of WALL-E robots left behind to clear up the mess. Now, there is just one robot left who continues his daily grind of recycling the garbage into small cubes. Over time, WALL-E has developed a curiosity about mankind as well as an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
After discovering a small plant struggling to grow, WALL-E soon finds his peaceful life interrupted by the arrival of a slick and advanced robot known as EVE. Falling hopelessly in love with her, WALL-E and EVE soon become friends. But when EVE discovers WALL-E's plant, she claims it for herself and permanently shuts down. Distraught, WALL-E is not about to let EVE go - not even when her mothership returns to collect her...
WALL-E / M-O (voices)
Captain B. McCrea (voice)
Shelby Forthright, CEO of BnL
Axiom Computer (voice)
Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon *
Release Date (UK)
18th July, 2008
Animation, Adventure, Family, Sci-Fi
Best Animated Feature Film
Academy Award Nominations
Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song ("Down To Earth"), Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing
What's to like?
Truth be told, it's a rare film that excites me enough to shell out for the ever-spiralling cost of cinema tickets. But with this sublime effort from Pixar, there was never any risk of being disappointed. The animation remains some of the best the studio has ever produced, somehow creating characters capable of so much emotion without much in the way of meaningful dialogue - this is the equivalent of producing Shakespeare's Hamlet with the cast of the Teletubbies! It's so good that you forget it's animated - take the moment when the unfortunate WALL-E is chased by shopping trolleys and the focus adjusts as if filmed through a traditional movie camera, complete with lens flare. It's a stunning piece of animation that takes your breath away with it's attention to detail.
But what I really love about this film is that it was the first one to tell a proper story with themes and complex narratives, one that didn't revolve around a character finding themselves like we've seen over and over in the likes of Shrek (1), Toy Story (2) or Kung Fu Panda (3). The film deals with themes of environmentalism, over-consumerism, our reliance on technology and good old-fashioned romance in a way that both kids and grown-ups can easily understand. Not only that but it's brilliantly funny as it is heart-breaking at times. If it can make a cynical critic like me cry a little bit then you can be assured that it's doing something right. Nobody had ever produced an animation with as much thought and respect for the audience as Pixar had with WALL•E and frankly, nobody really has since.
- The name of the ship - Axiom - is a mathematical term, meaning something taken for granted or something unquestionable. This fits in with the reliance on the ship's robots by the occupants.
- The film contains numerous references to Apple products from WALL-E's start-up noise to the iPod he watches Hello, Dolly! (4) on to the voice of the Axiom autopilot. Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and chairman, was also CEO of Pixar until its acquisition by Disney in 2005.
- WALL-E's name actually stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth class. EVE is Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator while M-O stands for Microbe Obliterator.
What's not to like?
The longer the film goes on and the more entranced by its brilliance you become, Pixar suddenly remember to include something for the younger viewers who might have lost interest in the unconventional story-telling. Once the story moves from Earth to the Axiom, the flagship space vessel containing the remnants of humanity, the film occasionally reverts to more familiar Pixar territory as frantic chase scenes and comical confusions take over. Granted, the film has made most of its points by the time WALL-E begins causing all sorts of chaos but it does feel a little like the film is pandering to the younger members of its audience. And anyway, few can provide this level of entertainment as well as Pixar can so it's not a massive issue.
Apart from that, I don't have a single complaint about WALL•E - a film that rewards the bravery of its producers by being simply magnificent. I fell in love with it the moment WALL-E drifts beautifully through space with the use of a powder fire extinguisher alongside the much more advanced EVE, the film's under-rated soundtrack perfectly capturing the magic of the moment. And even after seeing it many times, it still makes me melt and enjoy the wonderful tale all over again. For my money, it is not just the best animated film Disney has made (and yes, I know the likes of Frozen (5) made a truckload of money more) but one of the best films anyone has made in my lifetime. It is a peerless spectacle that I will defend to the hilt.
Should I watch it?
Yes, you should. In fact, why are you still here?
Great For: Adults, children, fans of proper science fiction, parents fed up of listening to Let It Go.
Not So Great For: Nervous Disney executives hoping the film's warning of over-consumerism and brand loyalty go over the heads of viewers.
What else should I watch?
WALL•E represents the pinnacle of Pixar's achievements and while the studio continues to produce some brilliant films, few have gotten close. Toy Story 3 (6)offers an equally intelligent look at much-loved and familiar characters staring at their own mortality as time and Andy has passed them by. At times, it gets worryingly bleak for a Disney flick but it hasn't stopped them for regurgitating a fourth film in the series. Up (7) has an even greater emotional resonance to begin with as a widowed pensioner concocts a mad plan to have one final adventure in his life. But the rest of the film is a bit too odd for my tastes and fails to match the film's emotional sucker-punch at the beginning.
I once had a conversation with a work colleague who doubted that "cartoons" (as she put it) could generate that much empathy. I could understand why she might feel like that - after all, it's hard to imagine anyone over the age of five crying over the likes of Planes (8) or Cars 2 (9). Since the beginning of CG animation, films have followed the same broad template of heroes struggling to make sense of their world before being mentored into finding their true selves and saving the day. Whatever you may think of WALL•E, it truly became the first CG animation to break that mould and I find it disheartening to see so few following its example.
- Toy Story
- Kung Fu Panda
- Hello, Dolly!
- Toy Story 3
- Cars 2