Thursday, November 27, 2008

Essay Review: WALL-E (****)

Directed by Andrew Stanton
Cast: Fred Willard
Voice Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver, Kim Kopf
Special Voicing Appearance: MacInTalk
2008--99 min.
Rated G (nothing objectionable)

Reviewed by The Teen Critic on November 27, 2008.

"WALL-E" is utterly astounding and remarkable, the best animated film I've ever seen, and that takes some meditation. Isn't the animated genre one that has spawned "Beauty and the Beast," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and "Toy Story?" Yes, and I truly believe that "WALL-E" is better than all of those, masterpieces though they are. This film redefines animation and brings it to a level that has never before been seen in the genre. It soars to new heights. No, scratch that--it creates new heights and has set the bar (for me, at least) for all animated films that come after it. It'll now be one of those movies to which one compares others, saying, "Such-and-such isn't as good as 'WALL-E.'"

The story is simple and straightforward, but aren't all of Pixar's stories? They are just engines to drive the message home. Here, the message is mildly disquieting, making this not just a "cute cartoon" or "kid's movie" in the normal sense. The movie has been criticized, even by its lovers, of being insulting to fat people, but I don't think so. What the movie is saying is much more insidious than that. The real message doesn't make the point of "WALL-E" much more different than say "2001: A Space Odyssey," "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," or "Minority Report" (and, for the record, just as good). It's more about one's meaning in society than it is about robots or outer space.

WALL-E is the only robot left on Earth, his job being to clean up the world's insane amount of garbage, piled up and practically looking like full-sized versions of N.Y.C. WALL-E (which stands for "Waste Allocation Load Lifter--Earth-class") is lonely, having not seen other robots for who knows how many years. He spends his days cleaning, gazing at the stars expectantly, and watching the 1969 musical "Hello, Dolly!" Having seen that film once on TCM, I can honestly say that WALL-E has more love for than I.
When a shuttle lands, dropping off EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), WALL-E is instantly smitten with EVE's curiosity and protectiveness. He falls in love so much, in fact, that in one scene his built-in windshield wipers clear off the grimy surface of his eyes to see the beautiful robot in front of him. Little does WALL-E know that EVE's directive is to find a living thing on the planet Earth and return to the ship holding its previous inhabitants. WALL-E has found one, and when he shows it to her, it acts as a homing device for the ship that dropped her off. WALL-E latches onto to the ship, follows her to the mothership, and gets caught up trying to return the humans to their original planet.

Wow, so maybe the plot isn't so simple, but it is ingenious and straight out of a Steven Spielberg film. It owes a lot to Spielberg's "E.T.--Extraterrestrial" and the aforementioned "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." Both films were about lost souls (an alien and a humanoid) trying to find their respective places on Earth. WALL-E tries to fit in on the mothership as soon as he gets there. In my opinion, this film is just as outstanding and inherently disquieting as those Spielberg masterworks. Just compare Andrew Stanton's vision of a garbage-laden Manhattan to Spielberg's dark vision in "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" and you'll see many similarities.

"WALL-E" works as three different films in one. As a love story, this is as intimate and effective as any in the past few films. This romance is as realistic, if not more so, than the best live-action romance in this year's "Penelope." By the end, when EVE saves WALL-E's life during the climax, we no longer see them as robots but as real, human personalities. As a comedy, this is one of the best of the year. WALL-E is such a sweet klutz that the slapstick humor surrounding him works just as well as any in cinematic history. The supporting characters, especially the scum-cleaning M-O, are equally effective and nicely drawn out, their emotions giving way to true characteristics instead of caricaturizations. And, finally, as I said above, the sci-fi elements are perhaps the most striking aspect. Obvious comparisons to Spielberg's work, as well as Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," are warranted, those comparisons to Kubrick's film well beyond Stanton's innovative use of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra."

In the last five years (since 2003's great "Finding Nemo"), there have been precious few great animated films--before "WALL-E," the best could be counted on one hand and still have two fingers left--but this film harkens back to the classics of yesteryear, creating affecting characters, tender romance, and brilliant humor. I have yet to give a Pixar film a grade lower than three stars (that being "A Bug's Life"), but I would give "WALL-E" even higher if possible. It not only ranks as the best animated film I've ever seen--or, at least, tied with the equally transcendent "Beauty and the Beast"--but one of the best films this decade and all time. I love WALL-E, and I love "WALL-E."


Actionman said...

Sweet review for a super-sweet movie.

Matthew said...

Even sweeter that last picture had EVE with a Apple logo on her. Did you notice that? =P