Pixar is one film studio that continually pushes the boundaries of what a movie can and cannot do. Their worlds are not built around logic, but imagination. Instead of telling a story that we can relate to, we are transported to a new world filled to the brim with relatable characters, and timeless tales that appeal to young and old.
But one thing Pixar has been missing is an absolute masterpiece.
Don’t get me wrong, there is not a bad Pixar film. But as good as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles” are, they are still innovators that began the 3D animated genre. These films were still trying to figure out the boundaries of what is possible. Notice the lack of humans in the early Pixar films? Maybe that’s because they didn’t trust their animation of humans to look believable. It could be more lenient with toys, bugs, monsters and fish because of their vast imagination and storytelling.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Pixar would produce their masterpiece, a film that not only takes what “Toy Story” started, but perfects it. This movie was Andrew Stanton’s “WALL-E.”
Every time I watch “WALL-E” it gets better. I find something new that I did not pick up on before, like robots in the background, scenes that reinforce continuous themes and character motivation. I remember once watching “WALL-E” on television, but missing the first thirty minutes. Later that day, I wanted to watch the scenes I missed on Netflix, and I ended up rewatching the entire film.
I watched “WALL-E” twice in one day and didn’t mind. That was the point where I fell in love with this film.
Sometime in the 29th century, the earth has been evacuated due to all the trash and pollution, allowing man to live out in space, while robots clean up the mess. After 700 years though, the trash has hardly even begun to be resolved and there is only one machine left to pick it all up – WALL-E, who after so much time of being active and possible alone, has developed a personality and a curiosity of the trash he handles, to the point of collecting the many unique times he finds.
One day though, a surprise arrives in the form of a space ship that drops off a probe – EVE, who is looking for something and continually fails to find it. WALL-E is fascinated by the sight of another robot and intends to show EVE the wonders that the vast world has to offer, including a green plant that he just discovered.
There is so much to love about “WALL-E,” but let’s start with the most obvious – the lack of dialogue throughout most of the film.
The first line of dialogue is spoken 40 minutes into the film. Yet “WALL-E” is able to say so much without saying a word. We see that WALL-E has been alone for a long time, that a massive corporation, Buy ‘N Large, has taken over the world and controls every basic function of human existence, and that as long and hard as WALL-E has been working, building several spires of garbage that trump many of the buildings throughout this city, he isn’t even close to being done, but he is more concerned about exploring and discovering than he is solving this problem.
The garbage isn’t going anywhere and neither is he, so WALL-E might as well have some fun with it.
WALL-E is like Sisyphus if he came with his life and learned to love it. Like the film keeps telling us with references to the copy of “Hello, Dolly!” that WALL-E keeps with him – there’s lots of world out there. So go out and see what it has to offer.
“WALL-E” takes what makes silent films so powerful, their ability to give us this in-depth universe without saying a word, and gives it a bright color pallets and one of the most believable and fascinating romances in recent memory.
The great part of the relationship between WALL-E and EVE is that isn’t hammered in with sexual tension and is instead replaced with companionship. Much like the relationship between Marge and Norm in “Fargo,” as well as George and Mary in “It’s A Wonderful Life” to a lesser extent, WALL-E and EVE only need to look at each other to appreciate their existence. Simply being in the company of the other is their greatest gift.
EVE is bound by her directive, like all other robots it seems. But as she witnesses WALL-E and his passion for learning everything he can about the world around him, EVE learns there is more to her existence than just her mission. WALL-E seems to have that effect on robots, allowing them to break out of their routine and see so many possibilities, as a reminder that any creäture shouldn’t merely survive, but live. WALL-E’s sense that one can be more is contagious.
EVE’s joy when she learns how to dance or her curiosity when she touches a light bulb and lights it up drives her evolution, while also making WALL-E appreciate her even more.
And all of this while still being about two animated robots. That is impressive, to say the least.
Some criticize “WALL-E” for its portrayal of humans. At the end of the first act, we are introduced to what humans have become after 700 years in space – they are blobs, confined to floating wheelchairs, never noticing the world around them and always in need of machines for assistance.
But I think “WALL-E” isn’t attempting to predict the future, merely to point out a trend in human behavior – to rely more on temporary solutions than one should, in replacement for what should be permanent solutions.
The floating wheelchairs were meant for old people to move around, yet now everyone seems to be fused to these chairs. They do this because it was easier to move around that way, much like it was easier to travel into space than it was to clean up the earth. In a way, humanity has been reduced to the state of small children, where everything is provided for us, so we would have no need to walk anywhere, and we are only concerned with our toys.
This where that line from “Hello, Dolly!” takes on a whole new meaning – there’s lots of world out there. So don’t see it from the confines of your floating wheelchair.
Technology was meant to make man evolve and become more advanced, not make life easier. “WALL-E” has taken that trend to its logical conclusion – where man has not advanced for 700 years, because it was easier to survive than it was to live.
The great way that “WALL-E” goes about this is to not give grand speeches about stopping pollution and corporate take-vers, but to have us be eye-witnesses to what we are missing, and letting the audience draw its own conclusions. Instead of giving us a glimpse of what life should be like, we can be evangelists to a better life style.
When WALL-E is on earth, for example, the storage truck that he has converted into a home is full of odds and ends he has collected over the years, including plastic spoons, rubber ducks, christmas lights. Owning things isn’t a problem for WALL-E, but as we see through the copious amounts of useless trash in the world, it is when owning things leads to irresponsible behavior that it is.
Yet the humans onboard the spaceship are anything from slobs, it is that they are living the only lives they know how to live – confined to a wheelchair. Everything is automated, and the only human on the ship who has a job is the captain, who complains that he has so little to do. All of this demonstrates that humans strive to accomplish something with their lives and do something meaningful. When that opportunity arrives in the form of a return to earth, it is no surprise that the captain jumps at the chance.
All of this, as well as the robots learning to follow more than their directive, contributes to the theme of being more than what you were born (or made) to be. To realize our full potential and that the easy way out not always the best option.
Finally, one of the notable aspects of “WALL-E” are the many similarities to another great science fiction piece – “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
I’m not talking about minor nods, like how the auto-pilot for the space ship has a big red eye like HAL-9000 or “Also Sprach Zarathustra” playing when the captain learns to walk, but continuous themes of evolution and technology throughout both films. This makes “WALL-E” is a wonderful companion piece to “2001.”
Of course, the problem with this is “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of the most ambiguous films of all time. It seems like every time someone watches it, they get an entirely different meaning out of the film. So my interpretation of “2001” might be different from everyone else, yet still worth noting.
And I see “2001: A Space Odyssey” as thus – It is the tale of man’s evolution, which was achieved when we learned how to use tools. To find items that would help us become more than we could be on our own. But eventually, man would evolve to the point where our tools would over take us, in other words, technology. We would rely on those tools far too much, and we would no longer advance as a species. Man could only evolve further by conquering its tools.
“WALL-E” shows those tools have now become more advanced than us. We created tools that can run our lives for us and have now gotten to the point that they can run a spaceship on their own, and the only human doing anything is giving the morning announcements. Our reliance on those tools has left man’s evolution at a stand still, or perhaps a de-evolution as we see in through the many pictures of the previous captains. As the figures of the captains grow larger, so does the auto-pilot’s control over the ship.
It isn’t until we learn that man must do more than survive that our evolution can begin again. At times, “WALL-E” feels like a natural progression of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which makes both films even better.
“WALL-E” is the best film out of Pixar’s amazing library. While still containing the classic trademarks of a Pixar film, it tries so many filmmaking techniques. From the lack of dialogue, to the gender reversal of EVE being the hero, to the continuous themes of learning one’s potential and striving for more. This is one of the few films I can watch over again and never get tired of.