Pixar Animation Studios (June 27 2008), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (November 18 2008), 2 discs plus Digital Copy, 98 mins plus supplements, 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Rated G, Retail: $39.99
When Earth becomes too toxic for humankind, the planet is evacuated in favor of a huge space cruiser, where the population of the world (or rather, North America, it seems) wait for the sign that life is again sustainable as Waste Allocation Lift Loader – Earth-class robots sweep up the mess they have left behind. After 700 years, WALL•E, finds he’s the last robot still active, and all that solitude has had an effect: he’s developed an inquisitive and quirky personality that has him questioning the meaning of his existence when an EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) module lands on Earth looking for the plant life that has been detected. WALL•E is drawn to the sleek newcomer and, though she is focused on her mission, manages to win her over. But when EVE finds life, the forces of the Buy N Large corporation swing into action, retrieving her and the precious sample back to the titanic Axiom ship. Shocked at the potential loss of his new friend, WALL•E follows her into deep space, where the adventure of his lifetime, and the future of mankind, awaits…
The Sweatbox Review:
“In the summer of 1994, there was a lunch…” though often derided by many for placing too much emphasis and importance on what, let’s face it, was a bunch of guys spitballing ideas over a working meal, this now infamous line about a milestone event in Pixar history turns out to be, if anything, an understatement: the resulting film borne from that meeting is WALL•E, which finds Pixar firing on all technical and creative cylinders to deliver a film that breaks through any limitations on what animation “should” be used for and raises the bar – as each film from the Studio does – to a new high.
Indeed, such is the tearaway impact of the film in regards to it being a “cartoon”, that Pixar’s parent distributor Disney is rumored to be eyeing a push for a Best Picture Oscar nomination instead of the specially awarded Best Animated Feature prize that Pixar have routinely won in the past few years. This has been a tremendous year for computer animation, arguably seeing the best, at least technically, to come from the Big Three: Blue Sky, personally second only to Pixar in my view, reached new heights of believable squash and stretch in their visual feast Horton Hears A Who, and the usually too slick or extreme DreamWorks stepped up to bat with Kung Fu Panda, a lush, widescreen epic comedy that really knocked one out of the park (Bolt, from Disney Animation, may be too outwardly commercial for it’s own good).
Then, of course, we have The Lamp, and their not so little story about the tiny robot that could, WALL•E, which simply takes everything one might think about mainstream animation and turns it on its head. Using everything they have learned from their previous pictures, especially Finding Nemo which was also directed by this film’s Andrew Stanton, WALL•E isn’t so much a totally original work as it is a unique blending of various influences and things one may have seen before, but never like this. It’s perhaps their most mature film, a surprise maybe to those who wouldn’t expect to find a word like that describing what is ostensibly a traditional sci-fi story (all apocalyptic world, futurism and devolved humans) about a mechanical being who finds love. Surely this should be a mishmash of moods and tone and cheese?
I have a personal wonderment of if Pixar are intentionally going out there each time with a movie more outrageous than the last as if to prove that not every film can be a hit: their last picture, Ratatouille, featured probably the most detestable idea for a hero as one could imagine. And yet everyone flocks to see their movies, to see what new wonders the original practitioners of trailblazing CG storytelling have come up with. They’re like Aardman Animation, pouring similar ideas out at an obscene rate and all of the best quality, but fortunate in having a powerful partner (and now owner) in Disney that sees each film marketed to perfection and resulting in commercial, critical and award-winning praise like no other Studio – except ironically Disney – has seen before.
From the opening frames it’s clear WALL•E is going to be “different” – there’s a higher force at work when your movie opens with Michael Crawford singing Put On Your Sunday Clothes from Hello Dolly against a burst of star fields! We’re operating on a different level already as we track in on an Earth vastly different to the one we know, and the film also seems to be interested in satisfying the inner geek; film and sci-fi references abound, sometimes intently so, sometimes subconsciously recognizable, but all toward the same end goal of making WALL•E for all the innovation, feel somehow friendly, warm and familiar. Thus even in the opening we’re reminded of Robert Wise’s aerial shots of West Side Story and, when we meet WALL•E himself, a whole host of cute robot characters from the history of cinema: yes there’s a bit of everything in here, the Johnny Fives, the Old Bobs, even some ET, which the film often reminds us of in attitude – though for me, with its lone robots, slightly melancholy characters but dose of optimism, it’s Douglas Trumbull’s brilliant Silent Running that’s the film most evoked in pitch and subject matter.
With his video camera eyes, switching lenses from wide angle to telephoto to draw emotion into the performance and a response from the crowd in hyper exaggerating the look of a human iris – and allowing him to “blink” using the shutter system – WALL•E is offered the chance for much expressiveness. Indeed he is asked to carry the great weight of the entire movie, especially the first half, with only Skywalker Sound’s amazing designer Ben Burtt’s digitized vocal inflections to help him along. Many, including some in Pixar’s own ranks, were anxious that they could carry the first half of the movie without any recognizably standard dialogue, but with a 20 year history of mostly pantomimed animated shorts behind them, I never had any doubt: this is what Pixar does, and WALL•E is the culmination of all that experience. It’s most refreshing for a contemporary CG animated film not to have to rely on biting satirical dialogue or fart gags, and it also helps, of course, that the character’s cinematic romanticism harks back, intentionally, to no less than a silent master than Buster Keaton!
In a way, I kind of hoped that we wouldn’t even need a main title, since we meet the title character in a close up that reveals his name from the outset, hardly calling for the big “WALL•E” on screen; the film just seems so ahead of that convention it comes over like a name check for those walking late into the movie. EVE – or EVA as Burtt’s vocoder affected voice seems to imply – is everything WALL•E is not: sleek, clean, ergonomic, purely functional, and of an advanced design. You can imagine what you like about magnets and futuristic engineering but one of the film’s biggest requests of suspension of disbelief is the way she floats – beautifully of course – and her limbs seem unconnected. But even this, within the confines of the story, works to an extent (though I noted no other robots with these attributes, which may have sold the concept as more commonplace 700 years hence), and she’s clearly the result of some industrial research and design yet to be applied!
What’s great is that WALL•E takes the time it needs to set out its location and present its characters, but it’s never that now all too often used word, overlong. Coming in at around 90 minutes shaving off the end credits (though they’re an entertaining extension of the plot and even, unless my eyes deceive, sneak in a quick Nemo reference), it’s fairly evenly halved between the desolate Earth-bound scenes where we meet WALL•E and he meets EVE, and the later, hyper energetic action on the humans’ Axiom spaceship, where they laze about waiting for nothing to happen. The film has been slowing winding up a coil during the first half, which springs into action with ferocity once we hit the ship, changing tact from an involving pondering comedy to an involving space opera in the Star Wars mould, complete with malevolent robots, laser blasters, trash compactors and even Sigourney Weaver as the computer’s voice: Ripley becomes a “Mother” at last.
The Axiom again reflects the kinds of familiar designs that we recognise from sci-fi’s futuristic past, but given that soft, rounded Pixar spin, drawing on the obvious sterile cleanliness of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the clutter of Star Wars most effectively. Here the story elements, the comedy and drama, are amped up, providing a new set of mechanical characters, some good, some bad, for WALL•E to bounce off, as well as the humans, here rendered in CG rather than the live-action humans – including Fred Willard – we’ve seen in the film’s opening commercials for the Buy N’ Large corporation’s goods and services. Quite why some people have found this choice confusing or trying to make any kind of “point” about animation is beyond me: it’s a perfectly logical choice for a computer animation company to present the humans of 700 years to come in this devolved, overweight infant-like state. True, these aren’t photoreal humans, of any size, and perhaps going for something that might feel closer in texture to “us” could have circumvented any criticism, but it’s a tough nut to crack and at least Stanton and his crew have made a major dent in the shell.
But these human characters are the least of the film’s Academy chances: it would be a shame to reveal any more of WALL•E’s distinctiveness here, but this must be a critical review and it would be fair to say that, despite the film being far and away beyond the reach of what most filmmakers, let alone animation creators, could hope to put out, Pixar’s opus is not perfect. Once aboard the Axiom, the spark of originality is replaced with fairly routine action plotting: Stanton’s final directive, that WALL•E is of course going to change the lives of those around him, in particular the human race, is abundantly apparent from the moment we see how we’ve become a bunch of baby-like fatties in the intervening years, thus making the final spurt of action simply something that needs to happen in order to come to an ending, however obvious or satisfying as the viewer sees fit.
EVE, as a character, is also in danger of being too aggressive. Her arc is to relax in the company of WALL•E, but she’s also too mission-focused; you get the feeling that if WALL•E cheated on her she’d have no hesitation in blowing him to bits. I’d have liked to have seen a scene in which her loyalty to WALL•E costs her something dear…it almost happens, but she remains a free spirit, more like a Mother rather than a girlfriend. But then they’re robots, you may say, to which I might suggest that’s another reason why we can’t quite connect with them: the attempt at an emotional reconciling at the end can’t quite produce the heavy response that ET leaving Elliott, Belle telling the Beast she loves him, or Peter Jackson’s Kong finally slipping away might.
Ultimately, WALL•E can’t quite hit home here, and I think its down to the eyes – for all the eloquence and emotion the characters exhibit, we’re aware, even if subconsciously, that they’re not living creations. It doesn’t help that most of us don’t know what it feels like to interact with a robot so, unlike Stanton’s fish and animated or not, as such the very subtle extra layer of connection doesn’t ever quite make that contact. You may be touched, but there’s no waterworks; the film remains too quirky. The same can possibly be said about Thomas Newman’s score: there are some wonderfully intricate moments of beautiful scoring, but Newman never comes away with anything near a great sci-fi theme. There are some attempts at Star Trek: Voyager-like majesty, but while I can still hum the main motif for Nemo, there’s nothing here to rival then musical pantheon of Goldsmith, Williams or, yes, Horner to an extent, even if the score is perfection in not calling attention to itself and in danger of being upstaged by the Hello Dollys.
Like the Buy N’ Large corporation in the film, WALL•E doesn’t actually seem to be about anything. There are some swipes at corporatism, consumerism (no poke at “WALL•MART” though!), over thinking and man’s fate, but anyone looking for anything more here will come up short. Even an environmental message has been dismissed by the filmmakers, and it’s true that if there is an agenda it’s much more buried than the dreadful Happy Feet, though the BNL name could well be taken for a metaphor of where we humans are heading: an insular society in which we get lazy talking to each other via flatscreens instead of face to face, by and large.
WALL•E, like its title robot and EVE’s coupling, is ultimately an out of the ordinary combination of being a totally original amalgamation of unique ideas and then somewhat putting that aside for a pretty standard resolve. It doesn’t undo all the good – great! – work that has come before, but it takes the safe option in its last minutes as opposed to anything really substantial. It’s still a brave and bold film, but attempting a Best Picture nomination will, I fear, find it coming up short, though technical nominations for the sound should be assured. WALL•E just doesn’t have the purely adult cache and broadness in replay value that Beauty And The Beast did. Andrew Stanton may well be the less showy Son Of Pixar to eventually break through the wrongly perceived animation barrier to claim such an award for an animated picture, but it won’t be with this one: better to aim for the Feature award and come away as the strong contender. It’s a close call this year, but despite its minor quibbles, Pixar have produced a heck of a movie, Earth-class or any other.
Is This Thing Loaded?
I’m still not sure, now that John Lasseter et al are part and parcel of The Walt Disney Company, how Pixar manages to get their DVDs differentiated from the rest of the Studio’s output, but WALL•E notes some interesting distinctions. Now part of the generic “Disney” promo that has topped all of the company’s recent discs are WALL•E himself and the new CG Tinker Bell, from Lasseter’s reworking of the first film in that franchise, which is nice to see the clip being updated as opposed to simply being recycled each time. Despite being an animated Disney disc, the DVD isn’t FastPlay enabled, though a number of Sneak Peeks (with some really odd “comedy music” on the “Coming Soon” text) do open up the disc: for Disney/Pixar’s next, the charming looking whimsical fantasy Up (though nothing more than the balloon teaser that’s not the DreamWorks Animation logo!), a Disney Blu-ray spot, and DVD pushes for Pinocchio’s Platinum and Narnia: Prince Caspian.
From their own menu choice, there are additional previews for the Movie Rewards program, The Secret Of The Magic Gourd, the next in the Tinker Bell line, Tinker Bell And The Lost Treasure and a Disney Parks promo – all either in widescreen or formatted for 16:9, a Pixar DVD tradition. Mysteriously, though just released, there’s no push for the first in the Tinker Bell series, the new Disney feature Bolt, very strange since it comes to theaters in the same week as WALL•E’s disc release, or the teaser for the Studio’s The Princess And The Frog – curious omissions that perhaps speak volumes in their absence…
The main menus are customarily elaborate Pixar affairs, being centered on WALL•E’s lonely Earth-bound experience on Disc One, with options presented as text either from WALL•E’s viewpoint or on signage among the trash, and the cluttered high-tech world of the Axiom’s display screens on Disc Two. The initial menu is also home to a couple of Easter Eggs, which may be tricky to find on a set-top player, as they don’t seem to be active except for specifically timed moments, but will be easy to hover a mouse over in a PC drive: you’re looking for the “big W” (wink-wink for those who get that!) that runs director Andrew Stanton’s original 30-second title test for a 2004 storyboard pitch to Lasseter and Pixar’s Steve Jobs (then named “WAL•E”, Jobs said he “didn’t like the name”). Moving to the BNL logo selects a 4:47 helping of Geek-O-Rama: on the Blu-ray Disc, there’s a full-blown second commentary track, with the movie nerds at Pixar pointing out their filmic references throughout the film; this is a nice alternative to that, a quick look at the crew’s sci-fi shorthand, including the ANDROS robot and a very cool powered wheelchair.
The rest of the listed bonuses kick off right away with the Presto animated short that accompanied WALL•E in theaters. At just 5:15 it’s one of Pixar’s fastest and wittiest cartoons – that being the optimum word – and an unusual one that returns the Studio to the antics of Knick Knack while combining such comic encounters with the hyper realism more recent shorts have brought. Concerning the aggressive dynamics of a stage magician and his unwilling bunny stooge, this is as fast as cartoons get, a wonderful homage to the likes of Jones and Avery that, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s Something’s Cookin’, even opens with appropriate titles that mix in the traditional Disney shorts background and MGM cartoon typeface. Presto Digiotagione’s resemblance to Walt Disney is open to debate, but the caricatured likeness can’t be denied and, if intentional, would of course be a more than suitable alternate trade for the great producer, a movie magician himself. Unfortunately – the DVD’s one sad omission – an audio commentary is unavailable from writer-director Doug Sweetland (though there are no less than eight chapter stops!), leaving Presto a delightful, wordless slice of warm up entertainment whose frantically funny gags and speedy inventiveness is ingenious.
A now routine trend in animated DVDs – particularly those for CGI movies – is the inclusion of an added treat featuring the main feature’s characters, and WALL•E’s big promotional push, as if the movie simply isn’t enough, is the new animated short BURN•E (7:35). Although the short is very funny, it follows The Incredibles’ Jack-Jack Attack and Cars’ Mater And The Ghost Light in that it pays as if it were an “unseen” group of scenes from the main feature, clearly referencing points as we’ve experienced them in the movie but adding a new angle to proceedings. None of this is negative comment aimed at the short – indeed it is everything I believe a DVD bonus short should be – but unlike previous Pixar cartoons, even ones like Presto, BURN•E requires a previous viewing of the movie that has inspired it, if only to gain maximum enjoyment (indeed, the feature’s director and composer should receive co-credits for the amount of work borrowed from the film). While trying to integrate BURN•E’s moments into the film would be a fruitless exercise (it’s not a grouping of deleted scenes) it’s unlikely to make a whole lot of sense to anyone who hasn’t seen (or remembers) the film – this is a great short made by WALL•E geeks for WALL•E geeks (and taking the Axiom’s jump to lightspeed to its logical 2001 conclusion! As such, production value is theatrical quality, from the widescreen ’Scope framing to WALL•E’s orchestrator J.A.C. Redford’s score and director Angus MacLane’s well observed character nuances and pokes at bureaucratic corporate types (the SUPPLY-R holding back a light rod just that teeny extra second than is helpful after BURN•E has lost a previous one is all the stuff that makes Pixar tick).
Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds From The Sound Up (18:43) takes a very welcome in-depth look at Ben Burtt’s massive contribution to the film, explaining what sound means and how it is used in WALL•E’s world. Going back as far as Jimmy MacDonald’s work on the Mickey Mouse cartoons in the 1930s, Burtt explains the non-portable recording equipment of the day meant MacDonald had to recreate natural sound in the studio from scratch, using specially constructed equipment and devices that have been preserved and that Burtt uniquely gets to play with! Best of all, as well as discovering how precise the sound effects were placed, Burtt shows how some of those original props found their way into WALL•E, bridging the gap of many years of sound innovation.
Deleted Scenes presents two cuts, running 9:30 in a Play All option with introductions from director Andrew Stanton. Garbage Airlock is interesting both for being a almost completed sequence from the film and for being an alternate take from a scene in the move that eventually played with WALL•E and EVE’s roles reversed. Dumped is another alternate take on something eventually used in a different configuration, again not quite complete but at an advanced stage of production. Stanton provides totally solid reasons for the changes, proving again why Pixar are Pixar and everyone else is Pixaren’t.
Stanton provides more insight during a full length Audio Commentary on which he elaborates on WALL•E and WALL•E in solo mode. On Blu-ray Disc Stanton’s comments are accompanied, in Cine-Explore mode, by extra picture in picture elements, but those yet to upgrade needn’t fear, the director paints a fully comprehensive image from his own comments alone. Though Lasseter must be applauded for projecting Pixar to the front of the CG animation boom, and Brad Bird celebrated for pushing the envelope while remaining the geek’s favorite fixture, it’s Stanton that I’ve personally always had my eye on, and he proves again here that he’s leaps and bounds ahead of even the standard Pixar game. He’s into breaking boundaries, switching from Randy to Thomas Newman on Finding Nemo to bring a freshness to the Pixar music sound, and here he’s junked dialogue almost completely along with the talking toys, bugs, fish and cars. I noted he didn’t start right from the start of the Disney castle (is that because Pixar films don’t get to use their own CG Disney logo anymore!?) but once he gets going it’s a non-stop offering of facts, from WALL•E’s genesis of tone from Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets Of Belleville, the use of the Hello Dolly songs (including a nice iTunes plug for Disney/Pixar shareholder Steve Jobs’ Apple Site), and the inspiration for WALL•E and EVE’s gender characteristics found on the half square, half circular shapes he saw at a Peter Gabriel concert (Gabriel later wrote and performed a new song, Down To Earth, for the film’s coda).
It’s not a totally successful track, however; though the commentary is wordy and scene specific, Stanton often frustratingly doesn’t address what’s onscreen: indeed through the entire first act Stanton’s still talking about inspiration and development rather than how shots are achieved, his choice of directorial style, where ILM’s effects fit in, or even some of the references and in-jokes. He does consider the topic of mixing live-action humans with CG characters later in the film and confirms that the use of Hello Dolly was the foundation of this choice, and that the CG humans are our natural evolution in this particular timeline. Everything in this human existence is explained – how insular they have become after years of portable device usage, the lack of need for intimate relations when test tube babies are readily produced – everything is explained…except how they pee! Eventually the track wore off on me and I came to the conclusion that never has one man said so much (good stuff) but also said so little at the same time: if only he could have been joined by someone else. Stanton’s debt to Burtt is clear (WALL•E “really is a Ben Burtt movie” he says) and it’s a shame he wasn’t a co-participant, but he does have his own featurette, which is in some ways is even better. Sneak Peek: WALL•E’s Tour Of The Universe is nothing more than a 50-second spot to discover “real space” at the film’s website.
The second disc is split between “Human” film fans and “Robot” family themes, so heading into where collectors will want to peek first, Disc Two’s big showcase – though it wrongfully doesn’t get the kind of recognition it deserves on the packaging – is Leslie Iwerks’ full-length theatrical feature documentary The Pixar Story (2007). Stacy Keach, sounding a dead-on soundalike for Dick Van Dyke, narrates the hour and a half piece, which covers the complete early life of the company after expertly running through the animation milestones that preceded its inception, and influenced and inspired the people who found themselves working there. From Lasseter and Glen Keane’s Fox And The Hound climax and early experiments with CG in Where The Wild Things Are to the first triumphs of Star Trek II, Young Sherlock Holmes’ visual effects and the blockbuster success of Toy Story, events are covered in some super-rarely seen footage, interviews with Pixar cast and crew and archived talking heads including Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.
I understood this to be an independent film, but closer inspection reveals it to be copyrighted to Disney/Pixar, so as such it’s all a bit self-congratulatory and predictably rests its focus primarily on the Studio’s big three: Lasseter, Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs. The first half is great, solid and in-depth, documenting Lasseter’s firing from Disney, Catmull’s entering the creative side of computer physics and a little known producer-director named George Lucas starting up a computer animation division where they would all come together. I guess recent history has been documented on various DVDs, and that the murky past is where the interest lies, but though the events leading up to the groundbreaking work of Toy Story are covered comprehensively, quite historically accurate and truthful, once that film is a hit, The Pixar Story then finds itself content enough to throw out any mention of the further short films that propelled Pixar to a position of being able to make the film and simply progresses workmanlike through the next handful of feature successes.
Made a couple of years ago, the documentary ends on Cars, missing out the Studio’s most recent two movies, including WALL•E, and so making it a fairly strange and somewhat dated inclusion here. It’s certainly the Pixar story, covering the foundation of the company through to its ending as a private entity when it was purchased outright by The Walt Disney Co., but one really wishes it had made an appearance earlier, either on its own disc or even better as part of a more extensive Pixar package that last year’s Pixar Short Film Collection could well have been – now that would have been an awesome proposition! Unfortunately, once we hit the feature films, the shorts are unmentioned again, leaving it to a shorter feature on that disc to cover that ground; certainly this documentary is worthy of its own release, but coupled with those shorts and other material frustratingly only glimpsed at here would surely be a must-have collection.
Iwerks previously made the terrific film about her grandfather, legendary Disney animator Ub, of course, The Hand Behind The Mouse, and again does an exemplary job here, even if some of the facts are either glossed over or completely whitewashed out. Thus Lucas is made to look pretty good despite selling off the young company, and it doesn’t dare to be as honest as stating the reason (a tough divorce and cost overruns on The Empire Strikes Back left him short of much-needed cash), likewise the disagreements with Disney – although the infamous Circle 7 is vaguely evoked – are largely left unsaid, leaving an air of extremely fortunate serendipity that led me to question the independent bias of the documentarian. However, taken on its own terms, The Pixar Story is just that: it’s no exposé, it’s a celebration of the Studio’s past, for which it rightfully deserves to stand up and take a bow. Lasseter says it best around the one-hour mark, remarking on Jessie’s song from Toy Story 2, that “at that moment, you know that no-one is thinking this is just a cartoon; it’s just a bunch of computer data…no, these characters are alive and they’re real”. It’s clear that Pixar grew from Disney and are proud to wear that association on their sleeve, that the two could, ultimately, not survive without the other. The perfect outcome has now been reached between the two, it’s just a slight shame that (the second half of) this film couldn’t be a little more in-depth or find a more unique platform on which to share its insights.
Jumping Behind The Scenes throws up a solid wealth of additional featurettes. One of the things apparently missing from Stanton’s commentary was a mention of how the Coen Brothers’ renowned live-action cinematographer Roger Deakins and ILM’s visual effects guru Dennis Muren had advised him on the film – a unique aspect in animation filmmaking. It seems he’s saving the best stuff for these featurettes: like the Burtt piece on sound, The Imperfect Lens: Creating The Look Of WALL•E (14:32) fortunately takes the time to cover the visuals and offers a valuable exploration of how the film broke through the confines of CG to emulate the live-action feel. The remainder of these mini-documentaries each observe distinctive facets of the film; Captain’s Log: The Evolution Of Humans (7:57) naturally focuses more on the CG humans of WALL•E, presenting a surprisingly different early concept that had us devolving into green Shmoo-like alien blob creatures (think Pixar’s short Lifted) before a few bones brought things back to what we see in the film.
Notes On A Score (10:41) expands on Thomas Newman’s role in WALL•E and his sonic contributions by way of the film’s lush score, while Life Of A Shot: Deconstructing The Pixar Process (5:08) takes the scene of WALL•E almost cruising over his cockroach pal and dissects the moment from Stanton’s scripting through the color script, set building, lighting, shading, and amount of debris introduced for realism. Robo-Everything (5:46) fulfills Stanton’s commentary promise to expand on the background characters found on the Axiom and how modular parts allowed the artists to quickly build a whole array of supporting players, and just in case you wondered if our two leads had been forgotten, WALL•E And EVE takes a seven minute look at their relationship and what it took to bring them to the screen. You couldn’t ask for more from these featurettes, which are also individually chapter indexed, but we also get an additional Easter Egg (you’re looking for the red icon at the bottom of the Behind The Scenes menu) for a 2005 Original Development Test (2:10) that sought to convey Stanton’s vision.
The fictional History Of Buy N Large is examined in a group of five BNL Shorts that fill in plot background and range from a minute to over two minutes in length, or 8:50 in a Play All option. These are the quite fun, mainly quick-paced edits of graphics and photos that appeared on the BNL’s fake website, that clue us in further to the informational film we catch a glimpse of in the movie: Operation Cleanup, All Aboard The Axiom, Captaining The Axiom and Meet The BNL Bots. Despite the light approach, it’s yet another measure of the depth the filmmakers reach to in providing stories to even the smallest of detail in their film: here you’ll discover everything from why WALL•E was left on Earth to what lies in the most distant corners of the Axiom ship.
A further two Deleted Scenes present scenes from an earlier version of the film, and as such they are shown in animatic storyboards rather than anything approaching final animation. Secret Files is an alternate reveal of the ship’s hidden directive, as hinted at by Stanton in his commentary, a very different take that could have been unbalanced by the obvious William Shatner-esque BNL spokesman. Docking is another alternate take, from the Shmoo-like human version of the film, in which WALL•E arrives on the ship and we meet the Captain earlier on. With a full soundmix using elements from the score and sound effects, and together with Andrew Stanton’s introductions and comments, the scenes play out for a 12:50 total.
Back to the disc’s top menu, and selecting Robots takes us to a small but neat collection of WALL•E’s Treasures & Trinkets, an almost five minute montage of the television spots that played during the film’s release earlier this year. With new wraparounds and a first-rate editing job that ties these together, this pretty much plays as a new animated short itself, essentially being sort of “the mundane (yet obviously hilarious) day to day adventures” of WALL•E, as the bot encounters many new objects to intrigue him. BOT files is a personality profile look at 28 of the film’s robots, from WALL•E and EVE themselves to lesser known stars NAN•E, VEND•R and, of course, BURN•E. The Lots Of BOTS Storybook is again much better than it needs to be, using the book-published graphic icons of the characters to tell a rhyming story that in Read Along mode plays as another little short (3:08), while as a Play Along version is, for once with these things, an effective bit of interactivity.
Those accustomed to the classic Pixar double disc editions of old might not find WALL•E’s treatment quite as deluxe as the high standard set previously, but it’s certainly a much more crammed package than the Studio’s last two titles, at least on DVD. The Blu-ray Disc does include more, granted, including the aforementioned Cine-Explore and Geek tracks, 3D Set Fly-Throughs of the Axiom and Earth locations, the Axiom Arcade suite of four retro videogames, a storyboard edition of the BURN•E short, a stills gallery and the film’s World Wide Trailers. While many of the other features take advantage of BD’s next generation performance and understandably can not be included here, it’s true that there’s no reason for the lack of galleries and trailers here other than bribery to upgrade, but WALL•E was trailed heavily on Disney DVD and fans are likely to own these already. The combination of a commentary track, new shorts, featurettes that further explore various production elements and a number of publicity items that include a feature documentary on the film’s Studio really covers as much as anyone could ask for in a WALL•E disc set.
Although Stanton states in his commentary that WALL•E was never designed to carry any kind of preachy message, environmental or otherwise, the film’s marketing has been quick to pick up on trying to promote recyclable packaging for the original soundtrack CD, going for card sleeves over plastic cases. Although other versions use more familiar covers, this three-disc DVD follows suit, going for a quite elaborate cardboard sleeve that might feel pretty neat initially but doesn’t do a very good job of holding the discs. They slide into wallet-style slips held in the foldout, digipack-like flaps that emerge from either side to list the 32 chapter stops and bonuses, and could quite easily be scratched with constant use (I wouldn’t give the cardboard much life among eager kids’ hands either). Apparently, this packaging is only limited to the initial 100,000 pressings, so some may choose to wait until more traditional cases come along.
Why the foldout packaging is only limited in number is a bit of a mystery, but the film’s other configurations, a single disc and two/three-disc Blu-ray editions, come in more standard keepcases, perhaps also as a way to prevent scratching on a major release in the new hi-def format: despite claims BDs are more resistant it could be a minor headache if such a title didn’t hold up! The third disc in these packages isn’t anything special at all, really, it’s just a DisneyFile of the movie provided on a Digital Copy disc, in Windows Media and iTunes (natch!) format. For those that need them and can’t rip their own movies from the main discs, they’re fair enough, but for those that don’t (and WALL•E only comes with the disc in this DVD set), they’re a redundant “extra” that adds more than a couple of bucks to an overall package’s cost. Inside, inserts printed on recycled paper sport the Disney Rewards code, the digital file code (expires November 2009, after which the disc is ironically just another piece of junk – that that, environment!), the benefits of Blu-ray, upcoming Disney discs, and a heap of WALL•E toys.
Ink And Paint:
If it weren’t for the half-hour or so extra material the first disc has to carry in addition to the 99 minute feature film, WALL•E might have looked even more stunning than it does on this DVD – if that’s possible. This has to be a new standard for standard definition presentations, an absolutely dazzling image that’s totally free of any mosquito noise or compression artefacts. WALL•E on DVD is something to behold…direct from the digital files, the level of detail and color clarity is exceptional.
Presented exclusively in its 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio (unlike the pan and scanned Betamax tape WALL•E watches of Hello Dolly!) in all formats, Pixar have stated that the Blu-ray edition presents the film even closer to their exact intentions: I’m not sure I buy their “this is as good as how we watched the movie at the Studio” marketing, but there’s no denying that if it looks this good here, the extra resolution can only produce further exemplary results.
As usual, Pixar packs a punching sound mix into its disc, offering up Ben Burtt’s great sound design in a stunning Dolby 5.1 EX track. This one’s a real keeper, folks, absolutely pounding your speaker setups with complete crystal clarity – every explosion and laser blast will shake your room just as intended. For those listening on something smaller (shame on you!), a Dolby 2.0 track has also been bundled in, which a special note on the disc explains has been mixed to optimise the sound for a traditional television set. An additional Maximise Your Home Theater (should there be an “Experience” on the end of that?) feature is merely Pixar’s own THX Optimizer, in effect, helping geeks to adjust their setups to a control-freak’s exacting standards. English for the hearing impaired subtitles are also optional.
After the relative droughts of Cars and Ratatouille on DVD, WALL•E is a great return to the fun and feature packed two-disc Pixar sets of old. And it’s more than fitting that this is the movie to do it: an out of this world experience that has all the room it needs to express the inspiration, perspiration, superlative thought and magic that went into its creation. Is the set perfect? No, that would be the Blu-ray’s job, which tops all by including those additional extras missing here, though the bundled in The Pixar Story is worth the price alone and should really have gotten an individual release instead of feeling somewhat lost amongst the WALL•E specific supplements that have been included. But in either format, you’ll not find a better edition of what can only be the year’s Best Animated Feature, which should surely see Andrew Stanton collect his second Oscar win. Roll on, if the rumours are true, John Carter Of Mars: I can’t wait to see what this amazing filmmaker does next.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?