Like the film itself, this review of WALL-E will be short on words — for two reasons. One, the plot is so interesting to watch unfold that I don’t want to give too much of it away. And two, after nine amazing films we’re to the point now where there isn’t much left to say about how good Pixar is. They make it look so easy. But it obviously can’t be or everyone else would be making them this good — and no one is even close to Pixar’s level.

If you want to see a wonderful film,
these are the droids you’re looking for.

WALL-E is the last of his kind, a trash-compacting robot left behind on Earth to clean things up after the humans have abandoned the planet. During centuries of solitude he has developed a distinctly not-to-code personality. He does his job, but is very curious about a lot of the things he finds in the piles of garbage. He’s become a collector. And a fan of musical theatre! One day Earth is visited by a space ship that drops off another robot in search of something. And it only takes a moment for WALL-E to be smitten.

As I’ve already mentioned, at this point there can be no question that Pixar is the best at what they do. So let’s just take it as given that the animation is superb (and it is), that the story is strong and tight (no question), and that the characters are not only charming but well fleshed out (as always, of course). With that out of the way, there is still more that makes WALL-E unique, even among Pixar’s other films.

First off is an uncommon problem necessitated by the story. By making the protagonists of the film robots who don’t speak much more than their names and then giving the bulk of the film’s running time over to them, you’ve got to find another way to get the story across. Credit the decision to bring in sound designer Ben Burtt with almost single handedly making this film the masterpiece many are already calling it. Best known for his work on the Star Wars films, Burtt gives, not only life, but heart and soul to WALL-E. Without which no one would even care about what happens to the characters in the film. It would not be a surprise to me to see the Sound Editing and Mixing Oscars heading to Emeryville next year.

Another special problem the film faces is the story itself, or more precisely, how to tell it. Luckily the writers stayed away from the idea of a narrator or voice over. And, except in a few small cases, they didn’t fill the film with characters reading a book, or watching a video, or flashbacks. Instead, in what turns out to be a very moving idea, the film’s story is moved along by how the people (and robots) WALL-E meets are touched by the encounter.

While message movies have become all the rage in Hollywood lately, writer and director Andrew Stanton claims there is no intentional moral in the film: “Everything we do is in service to the story”. That may or may not be the case, but either way this film is the model on how to add a message if you must do it. Again, I don’t want to give any plot away. But suffice it to say instead of cramming it down your throat like Happy Feet, any message in WALL-E is seamlessly weaved into the fabric of the story there for the taking for those that want it. And for those that just want to enjoy the ride there is no pressure to take anything out of it other than a great time at the movies.

You’re looking swell WALL-E, I can tell WALL-E
You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’ you’re still goin’ strong!

An aspect of the film I’d like to point out for special note is the film’s score. Thomas Newman does a spectacular job of setting the right mood for each scene. Whether it is a desolate landscape on Earth, a ride through space, or even a “first date” — the score moves easily from the orchestral to the computer-sounding to even some retro-pop. Pixar soundtracks are becoming some of the finest and fun-est to listen to on their own outside the film.

Okay, not everything is perfect. But it almost seems like nitpicking to point them out! The voice acting in the film, while completely serviceable, is nothing special. Having a real person playing the BnL CEO seems very out of place considering other human characters shown are animated. And a subplot with some damaged robots seems very unnecessary and almost tacked on for the kids. But none of this takes anything away from the film in the least.

While I enjoyed Pixar’s Ratatouille more, WALL-E is a much more unique and non-tradtional animated film. It seems like too many studios today feel like they have to make movies that are hip and popular. WALL-E shows that if you have the talent and the will you don’t have to be afraid of making a film that is different. And those differences are what makes this film so wonderful.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

June 27, 2008
103 minutes
Rated G
directed by Andrew Stanton