FILM REVIEW: WALL-E
U • 103 mins (including “Presto” short) • 18 July
Director: Andrew Stanton
Starring: (voices of) Ben Burtt, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Sigourney Weaver
It’s been nearly a decade since Buzz Lightyear last blasted off “to infinity and beyond”, but CG and space are such a natural fit that it always seemed inevitable Pixar would return to the final frontier. In WALL-E those animators with the golden touch get to scratch that science fiction itch in earnest. In the process they’ve created a piece of futuristic visual perfection that’s in with a shout at the title of best SF movie of the year.
Don’t let WALL-E’s cute, Disney Store-friendly appearance fool you. There’s a loneliness behind those giant binocular eyes, a sense of isolation the likes of I am Legend can only dream of conveying. The last robot on Earth, he’s spent the last 700 years dutifully compacting and plopping out the rubbish left behind by a long-gone human race. Yes, the film zooms in on the humour of his situation – there are plenty of slapstick moments courtesy of the detritus he finds on his travels – but there’s an underlying sadness here. Just try holding back a tear when you see WALL-E quietly rocking himself to sleep in the storage crate he calls home.
It’s testament to Pixar’s ever-brilliant animation that you find yourself rooting for a Short Circuit lookalike whose dialogue is limited to R2-D2-style whirrs and bleeps. The movie’s first, Earth-based act is bold enough to chart the first steps of a romance between a box on caterpillar tracks and a sleek, hovering robot from the future (EVE) with little more than gestures. They may be made of metal and silicon chips, but this couple have more screen chemistry than most of their flesh and blood counterparts could ever muster.
And frankly you don’t need dialogue or voiceovers when every single frame tells a story. In writer/director Andrew (Finding Nemo) Stanton’s dystopia, you’re never in any doubt about where humanity went wrong – abandoned shopping malls and posters promising to “clean up the mess while you’re away” reveal a society where supersizing became a way of life. The film is similarly pessimistic about the destiny of the human species. Sure, we’re living the dream, travelling between the stars on a giant spaceship, with our every whim serviced by an army of outlandishly ingenious robots, but something’s gone wrong. A subtle glimpse at pics of successive ship’s captains reveals the problem. From looking like real-life humans at the start of the voyage – Christopher Guest movie regular Fred Willard is the first live-action actor ever to appear in a Pixar movie – we’ve swelled into a race of Jabba the Hutts. Evolution’s a bitch sometimes. But Stanton hasn’t tried to sugar-coat the end of the world to make it more palatable. WALL-E feels like a filmmaker’s unadulterated vision rather than the focus group-filtered cop-out it could so easily have been.
Yet Pixar’s ninth feature-length outing is anything but bleak. Despite the social commentary, you never forget that the star of the movie is that little guy with the big eyes. He’s the catalyst for a story of Pleasantville-like awakenings, romance and some of the finest zero-g scenes ever projected onto a big screen. Sorry, Mr Lightyear, but this could well be Pixar’s finest movie yet.