Saturday, July 19, 2008

Wall-E (2008) ****1/2

For my first movie in the theatre in about a year, I found myself listening to crying babies and watching previews for truly awful-looking kiddie movies. (One of those previews was for a movie with dancing Chihuahuas. They pronounce it really exaggerated, Chee-Wa-Wa, so you know it’s funny.) It was all worth it, though, to see “Wall-E,” the latest charming, deceptively deep animated film from Pixar.
Wall-E is a little trash-compacting robot who is one of the last “living” things left on an earth that has been devastated by trash and pollution. He is one of an army of such robots produced by the Buy-N-Large (BNL, known for their massive superstores) corporation to try to dig earth out of its trash problems. Progress apparently wasn’t fast enough, as all the humans eventually left on BNL starships, hoping to spend a few years in space while the robots made earth livable again. Seven hundred years later, Wall-E is the only ‘bot still going. Powered by a solar cell, he happily turns trash into compact little cubes that he stacks into towering ziggurats that surround and dwarf the skyscrapers of New York. It’s a slow process, but then Wall-E has all the time in the world.
As you might imagine, Wall-E is lonely. He collects interesting human artifacts and spends his evenings watching a VCR tape of “Hello, Dolly,” pining for the companionship he sees on the screen.
Meanwhile, humans have forgotten all about earth. They live a life of sloth and obesity in their starship, reclining in floating chairs while drinking “cupcake-in-a-cup.” The starship, however, automatically sends probes to earth to check for signs of returning life. When one of those probes comes to New York, Wall-E’s world is turned upside down.
There was an article recently complaining that the depiction of future humans in this film is unfair to fat people. Supposedly obesity is genetic, and “Wall-E” is guilty of propagating the “myth” that obesity is a result of sedentary overeating. I don’t know about all that. Seems to me our genes come to us from our ancestors, and as a group, they sure weren’t as fat as we are. Whatever the case, I guess these complaints are the price Pixar pays for putting some actual ideas into their films. “Wall-E’s” messages on the environment, consumerism, and yes, the wages of sloth and gluttony will doubtless raise some hackles, but that is just a testament to the quality of this film.
I, for one, liked the subtle point that the Buy-N-Large company profited at every turn. They built gargantuan superstores to sell people a lot of cheap crap that eventually wound up getting thrown out. Then they marketed the Wall-E robots to clean up the mess. When humans finally had to abandon Earth, it was BNL that supplied the spaceships. Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but BNL cashed in while the Earth was destroyed. Of course, you won’t need many guesses to pick which gigantic discount store BNL is based on. I wonder if “Wall-E” merchandise will be sold at Wal-Mart stores.
I haven’t seen all the Pixar movies, but I suspect “Wall-E” may be their best yet. The story is complex enough to keep adults interested, but kids over two years will probably love it. (In my experience, babies may be scared by a few scenes.) The animation is beautiful, and, as with other Pixar films, the characters are more expressive and real than many human actors. (Believe me, if Keanu Reeves were drawn by Pixar, he would have won an Oscar by now.) There is some talk out there that “Wall-E” should be nominated for Best Picture, not just Best Animated Picture. That may be laying it on a bit thick, but I can see where they are coming from. This is an excellent movie worthy of multiple viewings by the whole family.
4.5 stars out of 5