A lone robot cleaning up the garbage congested surface of Earth has his world turned upside down when he gets a visit from another functioning robot from off world.
“Wall-E” is one of my favorite yet most disappointing Pixar Films. It has so much going for it and yet, it manages to squander much of the positive character work in the film in pursuit of large scale morality lessons which arise from a woefully under developed world and plot.
The movie opens stronger than almost any other Pixar film as far as I’m concerned. In fact the entire first act is delightful. With almost entirely without dialogue we are introduced to Wall-E, a lone remaining cleanup garbage robot, left on earth. He is, of course, lonely and has a small cockroach as his only companion. He collects things he finds interesting and loves his old VHS of “Hello Dolly.”
One day a bright shiny (apple inspired) robot named EVE comes to Earth on a huge spaceship that drops her off and leaves. At first she doesn’t give Wall-E the time of day even as Wall-E attempts to show her all the things he has collected. Once he shows her a small sprouting plant he has, everything changes. EVE grabs the plant and stores it inside herself, shutting down completely. Wall-E continues to bring her around with him everywhere until the spaceship returns, picks up EVE and Wall-E stows away on board.
All of this is done visually without hardly any dialogue. It’s great to see a company like Pixar which has the animated world at its fingertips actually using the tremendous flexibility of animation to their advantage in this regard. Large parts of this film feel like an old Wyle E Coyote cartoon in which everything we need to know about the characters is communicated by their actions, expressions, and environments.
Unfortunately, once Wall-E gets his trip on the spaceship, the subtlety of “Wall-E” leaves with him.
On the ship we are introduced to typical Pixar plots and players, with a controlling agile bad guy trying to dupe everyone into blind submission to a master plan a la “Monsters Inc.” and a cast of robot characters and human characters that never have much to do. This plot is told to us on computer screens, not gleaned from the environment, and the cast of characters are more plot contrivances than anything else, lacking the complexity or personality of the different groups of toys in “Toy Story” or fishes in “Finding Nemo”. This leaves the world feeling anemic and empty.
Of course, the big offender her is Pixar’s big mistake in not tying the movie’s themes together very well. On the personal level “Wall-E” is about a robot who wants a friend or maybe girlfriend and chases her everywhere till she realizes how much she means to him. On the plot level the film is about human consumption and laziness’s cost to the environment and ourselves. The problem with the film is that the two never mirror or reinforce each other.
In a better film, as the robots grow together, they realize that their purpose is to save humanity from themselves or maybe as the humans discover that they need to get back to earth, they task Wall-E and EVE to some mission or project that brings them closer together. The problem here, is that none of this happens. About halfway through the film it is obvious that Wall-E has gotten through to EVE. When they are fighting to save humanity it is more out of necessity than out of any affection for each other. Similarly when the humans are fighting for their survival they aren’t doing anything that they have seen modeled by Wall-E. They are just cheering him on. The two stories just never connect together into anything larger than their sum.
I wish I could say this movie is a 5 Star film. The first half of it sure is, but unfortunately for “Wall-E” this is a feature film and not an animated short. You need more than that to win over this cinephile.
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