CAPSULE: Pixar Animation is known for making good kids' films that even adults can enjoy. But now they really have crossed over the line to make an adult film that even kids can enjoy. WALL-E is a light fun comedy set against a very grim background. This film has a lot more message than just "have a good time." It is all about some serious problems our world is facing. Under the laughs and the humanized robots this is a serious science fiction film and well above average for the genre. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Spoiler Warning: There are minor plot spoilers in this review.
Pixar makes great, cute animated films. Their process does not lend itself to making realistic human images so they tell stories about toys, and insects, and fish. And these are good family films in the sense that they are aimed at the kids, but the adults really will have a good time also. With WALL-E for the first time I think they started making good family films in the sense that it is aimed at the adults, but the children can enjoy it also. WALL-E has nice robots with real personalities that kids and adults will respond well to. But rather than the little morals to the stories that their previous films have had for those looking for morals, this film has serious messages. The messages are wrapped in a nice animated film, but they can hardly be missed. And they are a dark core to this pleasant film.
The main character is WALL-E. He is a servo-mechanism that was left behind to clean up the environment when all (surviving) humans left the earth to go to a utopian resort ship. This ship looks like it will give the humans an ideal hedonistic life while back on Earth machines try to make the destroyed world livable again. It should be noted that now, seven hundred years later, the entire surviving human race is just a few thousand people. The film glosses over what happened to billions of other humans, but it is suspected they all died from something very nasty on Earth. The affable robots distract the viewer from asking what really happened to create this hellish future Earth. We are led to assume that the giant corporations like the fictional WalMart-like Buy & Large ended up owning and destroying our planet. Meanwhile the remaining humans are pampered on the Axiom, a ship deep in space that has become dangerously comfortable. Humans have become fleshy eating machines, obtuse and obese, who have as a race voluntarily given up the ability to walk. They get their nutrition from what look like 7-Eleven cups. But that is the back-story. We see little of it and its grimness is not where the emphasis lies.
We focus on WALL-E, a likable earthbound clean-up robot whose usually wordless antics echo the antics of silent screen humor. He runs about his little home area picking up trash, compacting it into building blocks, and building what looks like a large pavilion out of them. In his spare time he watches and loves one old human movie, HELLO DOLLY! His only friend is a sociable cockroach.
Then one day a spaceship lands and drops off an egg-like robotic pod. Like Robinson Crusoe surveying the cannibals on his island, WALL-E cautiously spies on the pod. After a somewhat shaky start in which the pod tried to destroy WALL-E multiple times, the two become friends. WALL-E has not had a friend larger than an insect in hundreds of years. The two become fast friends--"fast" in the sense of "over too quickly." Eva, as the pod is named, has found something important and has to return to her point of origin. WALL-E stows a ride and finds himself on the resort ship Axiom where in spite of the original plan it is really the robots that have all the power. A fair chunk of the film--too much really--is just chase around the charming but sinister starship Axiom.
Science fiction fans will find the film is informed by a good knowledge of the genre. I found myself reminded not just of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (though there are obvious allusions to that film) there are echoes of the writings of Clifford Simak and Robert Heinlein. There are also echoes of the film TITANIC, though physically they do not make sense. In written form WALL-E would have made a very decent 1950s science fiction story. It may be the best new science fiction film of 2008. I will not go into detail but the end-credits are one more very creative aspect of the film.
Pixar gives a light treatment to some very heavy ideas and has made a film that the adults should appreciate even more than the kids who see it do. While the kids have a good time, the adults may find that this is a film with several serious messages. It is ironic that Pixar has made a film warning us about large corporations, and it is being released by industry giant Walt Disney Pictures. I rate WALL-E a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0910970/
While I am talking about good fantasy films from Pixar, PRESTO (a short animated film that runs with WALL-E) is both very funny and a film with a fun fantasy premise, expanding around an idea that would have been a quick gag in Looney Tunes. Together WALL-E and PRESTO make a package that returns a lot for the price of admission.
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper