Thursday, July 10, 2008

Review: Wall-E

Wall-E is the latest movie from Pixar/Disney.

Summary: Ambition wars with formula to produce an exciting, epic movie with great visual appeal and safely tread humor, but little in the way of emotional connection or chracterization.

Plot: Wall-E is the last remaining functioning robot on an over-polluted and abandoned Earth. During the day he collects and compresses garbage into blocks, while keeping an eye out for curious items to take home to his little homestead. At night he sorts through his collection and watches old videos on a VCR hooked up to an Ipod.

One day he encounters a sleek, modern probe in search of something, we don't know what. He gradually befriends the probe (feminine) and shows her his life. She finds what she was looking for, and the two get whisked away from Earth, back to the spacehips where the last residents of the Earth while away their time in a utopian world of floating chairs and liquid foods on demand. Humans are so atrophied, that they are big blobs who can't even walk.

Will Eve and Wall-E be safely reunited? Will the humans learn to walk? Will the Earth ever be cleaned up?

Reactions: Wall-E is the most ambitious movie to come out of Pixar. It's epic in scale, with several distinct parts to the movie. The first 40 minutes or so is rambling around Earth and the meeting of the two robots. Most of the rest takes place on the floating Earth ship, where we meet a whole new array of different robots and the occasional human.

The animation can hardly be called animation anymore, it is so realistic. The film quality is rich and lively. The writers' and animators' imaginations are also incredible. While there are typical site gags, a great amount of what passes by on the screen exceeds expectations, where it could merely have met them. The visuals, scenes, items, accessories, and so on that appear are always fresh and never simply the easy or expected. A whole world is imagined. Two whole worlds, actually, if you count the ship.

Wall-E is part drama, part comedy, part romance. The comedy is where the imagination works best. I laughed aloud a number of times. Although not substantially different than other Pixar comedies, the formula works well and they always find new ways to be surprising. The drama is also pretty tight. Eve has a mission, and it gets thwarted. Wall-E has his own mission (to find and woo Eve). The story may drag for younger or more impatient viewers at certain times, but not overly so.

Where is fails is as a romance. While cute that two robots are supposed to find romance, the robots, as well as the few humans encountered during the film, have little in the way of interesting characters. Wall-E is a bit like Charlie Chaplin's tramp, but only superficialy; he's playful and pathetic. Eve scolds and worries over Wall-E. That about wraps up their characters. The captain of the ship, who has the biggest role, also doesn't do more than just fit a need in the plot.

As a result, the few sequences where the romance between the two robots is extended are the weakest parts; sentimental, but not engaging. Typical Disney without even strong characters to back it up. The ending, which spends time wrapping up the romance rather than properly wrapping up the drama, suffers therby.

Luckily, these parts don't take much on-screen time. The rest of the movie, as I mentioned, has an epic feel to it. At the end, you don't feel like you've seen just a single plot. You feel like you've seen a history unfolded before you. Wall-E is ambitious, fun, and mesmerizing. It could have uses a bit more "New Hope" Leia, and a little less "Return of the Jedis" Leia. It's still highly recommended.

A little word about the ending credits: they're beautiful and brilliant.

The picture and link above takes you to an interactive Wall-E toy, as the DVD isn't yet released. On the other hand, you can play the computer game, download a print-and-play game, buy a stuffed Wall-E toy, the Little Golden book of Wall-E, the Art of Wall-E book, coloring book, music, posable figures, poster, digital watch, pajamas, lunch box, flashlight, and cake topper set.


Gerald McD said...

Thanks for the review. We are taking our grandchildren to see it next week, as we have many Pixar films in the past several years. I look forward to seeing it.

patrick said...

Wall-E totally looks like the robot from "Short Circuit"... minus the cheesy 80's style of course

Aaron Fuegi said...

I strongly disagree with you about the romance story in the movie. It absolutely worked for me and the space dance was probably my favorite sequence in the movie. I also found Wall-E a far more interesting character than you apparently did.

Yehuda said...

Patrick: You're right. It looks like a squashed Johnny.

Aaron: To each his own. The space dance was visually neat and cute and "romantic", but not good story-writing. It was the same scene from a hundred other Disney movies in a different context. It was cute.

I found the characters one-dimensional and cliche, and the romance doubly so. And they could have done better. In fact, eliminating that scene, or using it for a different reason but without hitting you over the head with the romance/play, would have made a better movie.

Even with all the groundbreaking elements of the story, they were still too timid to avoid mandatory scenes like these. If they had ended by resolving what happens to the civilization, rather than resolving the story of the two robots, it would have been a much more meaningful movie.