Short version: Technically Wall-E is the best film Pixar has made – it’s funny and heartwarming, but it’s also the preachiest.
Screen Rant’s Wall-E review
We haven’t given Wall-E as much coverage as some other movie sites, but nonetheless I’d been looking forward to seeing it ever since I saw a panel for the film last summer at the San Diego Comic-Con. In my mind there was no doubt that Pixar would knock another one out of the park with their quality approach to both story and the animation itself.
Well, they certainly succeeded as far as the animation goes – the film surpasses everything Pixar has done to date. Overall I enjoyed the film, but a few things kept it from being Pixar’s best work.
Pixar films have always had a message: Friendship, loyalty, teamwork, the importance of family and helping others – but I’ve never felt the message delivered with a heavy hand… until now. Wall-E (the movie, not the character) is the latest film to jump on the “we’re destroying the Earth” bandwagon – but it also warns against the dangers of sloth, gluttony and Instant Messaging.
Wall-E (the character) is a quirky little robot whose lonely job it is to compress, collect and organize the trash/junk left behind on Earth, which is now deserted by humans. Apparently there was an army of little robots just like our intrepid hero left behind to clean up the Earth after we had literally trashed it to where it was no longer habitable. Apparently it’s been a very long time since we left because he is the only robot left functioning. Somehow (and it is never explained how) he has acquired a personality. I don’t imagine that a trash collecting robot would need to be designed to have a personality to do its menial job.
Wall-E is very cute and we see much of the funny bits that have already been shown in trailers and commercials. We also meet his little buddy – a cockroach which I have to say is very cute, if you can say that about a roach. Wall-E is a collector of odds and ends and has shelves full of not only replacement parts (explaining how he’s managed to survive so long) but a large variety of all kinds of stuff he found interesting including hand mixers, light bulbs, butane lighters, and his favorite: a videotape that contains a scene from an old musical movie (sorry I don’t know which) that shows a dance number and ends with a couple holding hands romantically. This is where we see how lonely he is.
I have to mention right here that the CGI animation in this movie is phenomenal – especially within his “home” I would say that if it was shown outside the context of a CGI movie there is no way I’d be able to tell that it wasn’t an actual movie set populated with real objects. Truly amazing detail and lighting in the rendering. But in this same scene we see for the first time (although it is on a TV screen) actual live actors in a Pixar animated film. While my knee jerk reaction was that I didn’t like seeing them and it pulled me out of the magic of the film, I was prepared to accept it – but what happens later in the film made it make even less sense. I’ll get to that later.
Anyway, one day a giant spaceship arrives (which looked like a cool update of the classic rocket ships from 50’s sci-fi movies). From it comes a super-sleek, egg-shaped robot who we come to know as Eve. She is exploring and scanning the area, and for some reason seems highly paranoid for a robot exploring an abandoned planet, using a powerful weapon to blow the heck out of anything that startles her. She and Wall-E get off to a bit of a rough start but eventually they find a connection, with Wall-E having developed a crush on her.
Something happens to Eve which effectively shuts her down and Wall-E watches after her for days until the return of the giant ship, where he hitches a ride to end up on what is basically a giant space-ark. On the ship we meet a big variety of robots, each with its own specific task – and it’s quite funny watching our hero outsmart them as he tries to make his way deeper into the ship in order to not lose Eve.
We finally meet the humans on board who turn out to be the personification of sloth and gluttony, whizzing around on hover-chairs with virtual screens floating in front of their faces as they have online conversations with other people, oblivious to those around them and their environment. The seem to be as they are not through laziness but because it’s all they know.
Eventually we find out exactly what Eve’s mission was and the captain of the ship activates a pre-recorded video by the CEO of mega-corporation B&L (Buy ‘n Large, or really, President Bush) played by Fred Willard explaining to the captain of the ship exactly what he’s supposed to do.
So what didn’t I like? Here’s one thing that bugged me: Why were the people in the old movie shown earlier and especially Fred Willard live actors while the current population is CGI? No, I’m not saying the characters on the ark should have been live, I’m saying that Willard’s character and those in the old video should have been CGI characters as well. I just didn’t see the logic. Fine, now everyone was grossly overweight – so have slim CGI characters from the past appear as ancestors of the current population. Also here you have these people who are so huge and with such atrophied muscles that they can’t even move on their own in the micro-gravity of the ship, yet when they get to earth they walk off the ship just fine. Yeah, fine – call me nitpicky, I don’t care.
The bang-you-over-the-head-ness of the overall message also bugged me. Yes, we need to be more environmentally conscious and personally I’ve got a big sore spot for the obesity problem in the U.S., but geez… this is a Pixar movie. If I want that level of social commentary I’ll go rent Idiocracy.
What was great? Everything else. The animation was really stunning – their ability to tell a story with so little dialog was very impressive, and it was awesome to finally see Pixar tackle the final frontier. There really were quite a few laughs to be had in the film, and plenty of heartwarming moments as well. Once again Pixar manages to deliver a film that both children and adults can enjoy without any fart jokes or “over the kids’ heads” sexual references, and I give them huge props for that.
Also there are many, many nods to science fiction films that we all know and love, most notably of course, Star Wars and 2001, but there was even a G-rated nod to my all time favorite film: Aliens.
However for me, it didn’t quite leave me with the same sense of magic that I usually get from Pixar films. It’s far better than Cars, but I have to say I prefer the Toy Story movies and The Incredibles to Wall-E in terms of story.