It had been some time since my family and I took in a movie at the theater. Normally we keep our eye out for advertisements of upcoming films, and then once a movie is released to DVD we make a trip to the nearest Redbox DVD rental location and for $1 we have a good night’s entertainment. But yesterday I wanted the full cinematic experience with the large screen, Dolby sound, and of course, the snack bar. My family was somewhat divided over just what would be the the evening’s flickerings fair, but with the vote between WALL-E and Hancock, WALL-E won out.
WALL-E is the latest computer animated film produced by Pixar Studios in collaboration with Disney Studios. I have enjoyed the animated shorts and full-length features done in the past by this creative duo, and the previews for WALL-E piqued my interest in this latest venture, so my expectations were high as I entered the theater. Thankfully, I was not disappointed overall.
As readers may be aware, the story takes place some 700 years in earth’s future in a post-human environment, where human over-consumption and the production of waste run amok, has led to such high levels of pollution that the planet has become uninhabitable. Visual clues in the story’s initial scenes inform the viewer that in the past a mega-corporation, the Buy-N-Large company, produced a group of robots, the WALL-E line of machines, which were tasked with the responsibility of cleaning up the planet. After some time the cleanup efforts were unsuccessful, the human race no longer inhabited the planet, and after 700 years only one robot remains, still pursuing his daily routine of cleaning up after human waste, largely in the form of metal trash compaction and storage. This basic storyline sets the stage for the later arrival of a rocket which drops off a robot probe in search of organic life, and it is this robot which captures the attention and heart of a lonely WALL-E, and which then leads to an adventure in space which unfolds in the remainder of the film.
The animators and technicians behind WALL-E have produced a visually stunning film with this outing. While the main characters still have a “cartoony” feel to them in terms of their appearance, the other elements of the scenes in which the characters perform, including background, “sets” and foreground items, are all done with the appearance of realism and great detail, right down to the rust on metal and dust on a dry earth surface. This combination of realistic surroundings, coupled with a more traditional cartoon approach to character depiction, gives WALL-E an interesting interplay between visual representations that I found intriguing. This contrast is even more striking in that the main feature film is preceded, in typical Pixar fashion, with a computer animated short, Presto, which has an “old school” feel that is reminscent of Chuck Jones’s work in the Looney Tunes.
Another interesting facet of this film is that the ininital scenes which set the foundation for the rest of the story. These take place without any dialogue and it is pure visual imagery, and the emotion conveyed through three characters, WALL-E, his “pet” cockroach, and the robot EVE, that both provide the foundational elements of the storyline and develop emotional bonds between the characters and the audience. Granted, storytellers have been anthropomorphizing non-human characters for quite some time, but Pixar’s animators have done a wonderful job in communicating human emotions and relationships through WALL-E‘s robotic main characters.
Beyond its straightforward family entertainment value, this film is not without its social commentary. A few conservatives have lamented the film’s premise of a planetary environment tainted by human pollution, but this element is handled lightly and serves as a subtle background assumption for the plotline. The film can also be understood as touching on other elements of the contemporary human condition, including our (over?) reliance upon technology, and questions surrounding sentience and the nature of personhood as they relate to complex robotic technologies.
One problem I did have with the film on a visual level was the inclusion of traditional, non-animated video footage of human beings at various points in the story. In previous efforts Pixar has animated all of its characters, including the human ones, and the mix of animated and real human video imagery came across as visually disjointed to me, and it didn’t seem to assist the storytelling either.
Independence Day weekend filmgoers will not be disappointed by this animated fantasy-sci fi adventure that includes aspects of enjoyment for young and old alike.