As always, Pixar preceded their feature with a short, called Presto. The rabbit who stars is an atypical sort of character design for Pixar, which made me nervous initially. Never fear! Presto plays with the laws of cartoon physics in another lovely, wordless short that is reminiscent of the madcap Tex Avery. Then begins the feature. Wall-E’s opening is much more calm, the titular cleaning robot dwarfed by his unfinished work. It’s quiet and, while not slow, it definitely reset the pace after the frenetic Presto. The only commonality was an utter lack of dialogue. It’s funny how such a narrative technique gets hailed as groundbreaking when it’s practically the oldest form of theatre known to man. But it feels groundbreaking especially now in our flash-edited, hypermedia world.
Our audience was shockingly slow for an opening night. Two loud people — well, let’s call them what they were: they were idiots — behind us actually profoundly ruined much of the movie. I was unable to fully surrender to the movie, to the mood and tone and profundity of Wall-E’s experience. They were at least loudly appreciative, rather than gossiping about work or Britney or something, but their prattle and constant squealing definitely tainted the film for me. My companion whispered to me, at about the thousandth time the female squealed in delight when Wall-E rolled or moved one of his limbs, “It’s like he’s a character in the movie!”
The obvious charm of Wall-E’s character, of his diligence, curiosity and loneliness was filtered through a litany of misunderstood jokes and boisterous responses to bits already well spoiled by the preview. What I can say is that regardless of my ample mounting rage, Wall-E still managed to charm and engage me, and make me laugh. I can’t wait to see it again for the first time.
Forty minutes in, the story dynamic changes — I regret how many great moments were spoiled by the preview, but they did leave the second half of the film virtually untouched — and the dialogue, such as it is, begins. This film may be too still and quite for a very small child (though it would showcase a thoughtful child’s ability to empathize beautifully). Pixar films have always been adult films that kids can access, but Wall-E may be a little un-frenetic enough for the wee ones.
Our little robot friend finds himself surrounded by the society that him behind, and we are treated to a glimpse of our inevitable future as well. Wall-E is the most “message” laden of the Pixar films thus far, previous themes being more constrained to matters of the heart such as family, courage, community, tolerance. This film does not preach so much as satirize, unfamiliar waters that Pixar only stuck a toe into in Cars. It still has plenty of heart; he is sentient with sentiment. The undeniable reminders that we as an industrial society are doing it wrong do not subtract from the film, but they felt a little like an uncomfortable suit worn for an important occasion.
It is a testament to the character animation that the Pixar team can render the difference between a conscious and a lifeless robot. We’ve come a long way, baby. Wall-E’s lensed eyes are as expressive as a live actor’s and I don’t say that glibly. A fun piece of trivia a friend pointed out: You may catch a little Mac joke winking at the audience in the sound effects, but an entire character (AUTO) is voiced by Macintalk. I think it’s the Zarvox voice, but I am not sure. For those who don’t realize it, Apple head Steve Jobs is also the head of Pixar. Hee hee!
Some of the secondary plotline involving a captain and a very specific directive got a little narratively mushy, it seemed. I’m willing to assume the blame rests on Tweedledoofus and Tweedledumb behind me, but only the second, necessary viewing will prove it for sure. Director Andrew Stanton last gave me my favorite Pixar film, Finding Nemo, and this is a healthy follow-up. For those who dismiss an animated robot movie as another Short Circuit, think of Number Five as Urkel and Wall-E as Stitch, or ET. He’s just a little guy trying to make a connection. Who can’t identify with that?
Second viewing made me cry, so that was a relief.
MPAA Rating G
Release date 6/27/08
Time in minutes 103
Director Andrew Stanton
Studio Pixar / Disney