Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wall-E: Yet Another Disney/Pixar Film Does Nothing We Haven't Seen 100 Times Already.

The Good: Moments of animation, Moments of concept
The Bad: Moments of character construction/animation, Predictable plot, Pacing, Human animation.
The Basics: WALL-E might entertain, but the animation and lack of genuine character are likely to trouble a more sophisticated audience.

I will admit I am not the big fan of Disney/Pixar films that some people are. Sure, computer animation is great and it has come quite a long way since computers were first set to the task of entertaining us mere humans, but there is much that CG effects are used to cover these days. I suppose my big, general gripe with computer generated effects is that often they are used to gloss over a terrible or underdeveloped script and trade a movie based largely on spectacle as opposed to substance. When I first saw WALL-E, I had not seen a Disney/Pixar movie since Monsters, Inc., so my perspective comes largely from being an adult cinephile with the desire to see movies of substance.

I decided I needed to break that trend and go see Disney/Pixar's cinematic offering, WALL-E in order to keep up as a reviewer. WALL-E seemed like a pretty safe bet for me as I am quite the fan of science fiction. Alas, fans of science fiction such as myself will be disappointed by the simplicity, effects and story of WALL-E. This is very much a children's movie and adults will find little to get excited about as it does not even try to be more than what it is. For those adults dragged along to WALL-E, it's not likely to satisfy.

WALL-E is the last living thing on Earth, an old robot who has been left behind after a mass exodus of humanity. He is alone, sentient and is essentially a shy hermit who cleans up the debris left over after most organic life has left the planet. He communes with cockroaches and has a routine (cubing up old garbage) and he even keeps himself entertained by watching old movies. Everything changes for WALL-E when an expedition arrives to check on the status of Earth, led by a robot named EVE. Instantly smitten, WALL-E tries desperately to make her acquaintance.

WALL-E departs Earth as a stowaway, trying to catch EVE. His mission to find the other robot takes him to the edge of known space and puts him in the company of humans and robots who seem baffled by his determination to find the robot who broke his isolation.

In traditional Disney (and, I'm assuming, Pixar) fashion, a grand adventure ensues to move WALL-E and his companions around and in the process, the blundering humans learn a little something about heart. First, what WALL-E does right. The opening portion of the movie is not bad. WALL-E's desolate Earth is a very vivid place and the loneliness is palpable, much the way Will Smith's character's was in I Am Legend. For the first segment, there is only music and WALL-E's beeps and boops for language. And, of course, the moment the clean, thin flying droid pops up, there is the musical "oohhh" and "aahhh" we might expect.

The underlying message of WALL-E, when it tries to be more than just a spectacle of computer animation, is a decent one. No, this is not An Inconvenient Truth for children, but it does make a statement about the environment. It also does a fair job of making a commentary on the human dependence upon mechanization, while subtly reinforcing that the opposite is not true. Fortunately, there are no comments that are objectionable to either children or adults. Unlike the last animated feature to severely disappoint me, A Shark Tale, that had terrible problems in its message, WALL-E is inoffensive in every possible way.

Unfortunately, this is part of the problem with the movie. In addition to being inoffensive, writer-director Andrew Stanton managed to make a film that was remarkably sterile, starting with the character relationships. WALL-E has a fairly unique and compelling character in the spirit of silent movie acting and that character works up until the moment EVE shows up. It's love at first sight and it's uncomplicated and bland and it has been done. It is the very typical fairy tale type crush wherein the protagonist simply falls for the first person to cross their path. There's nothing that connects them other than that they are both robots (and, because it is associated with Disney, one is "male" and the other is "female," ergo it's love and it's meant to be). As a result, WALL-E's quest across the galaxy is somewhat silly and pointless. His motivation is not all it is cracked up to be and as a result, watching him in action seems like action for the sake of action as opposed to actual character.

This gets to the other serious issue with WALL-E and that is in the character design. WALL-E suffers because it works hard to create a reality that is very three-dimensional, fresh and real. The sequences with just WALL-E and the other robots work fine for a while, especially at the beginning with WALL-E and his routine. But from the moment the first human appears on screen, that reality is shattered. The humans look like the Claymation animation from the Puffs tissue commercials and that very animated, obviously stylized people. They look like figures from a children's picture book and while WALL-E is clearly derivative of Number Five from Short Circuit, the humans look less real. They have a sense of appearance and even movement that is strikingly animated as opposed to real.

Moreover, as soon as WALL-E leaves Earth, most normal physics principles fail to apply. The very limited, careful sense of movement with which WALL-E rolls around his wasteland become suspended for giant, outrageous shots of spaceships roaring and robots sliding and bumping around. EVE's hovering makes sense, but in the scenes on Earth, she is bound by some normal sense of physics. This is essentially the difference between normal, obvious movement in the real, physical world and Wylie Coyote physics. Sadly, for the entertainment factor, WALL-E quickly degenerates into the latter sense of movement.

More than that, the movie transforms from being a stark and realistic story with a very obvious sense of plot and routine and becomes a series of witlessly collected misadventures as WALL-E pursues EVE. He moves from one group to another, searching and the interactions with other robots and humans do very little to advance his bland character or his cause. WALL-E begins as respectable and experimental, but it then becomes very pedestrian and predictable as the ancient robot trundles along in his motivationless quest.

Children watching this might, at worst, find value in chasing after the person of their dreams, but for adults, it is difficult to watch this film in that it is largely uncomplicated by such things as motivation or genuine character development. At best, children might take away the need to take care of the environment.

On DVD, the film looks good enough. WALL-E is presented with two new animated shorts (Presto and Burn-E), two featurettes on designing the sound and universe of WALL-E and deleted scenes which fix none of the problems of the original movie. As well, there is a commentary track featuring director Andrew Stanton. It is, however, not enough to push it up in my book.

But for all of the praise I had heard about WALL-E going in, it just seemed like a very simple animated flick with little to recommend it. It is too predictable and obvious and director Stanton seems obsessed with movement and utilizing the majesty of computer generated animation as opposed to creating something with lasting substance and originality.

Still, it's harmless enough for children who might be entertained by the spectacle.

For other Disney animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Toy Story 3
A Christmas Carol
The Incredibles
Monsters, Inc.
The Little Mermaid
Lady And The Tramp
Sleeping Beauty


For other film reviews, please visit my index page here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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