Okay, fine, WALL·E doesn’t suck. I was just trying to get out of this review.
WALL·E is the kind of movie I actively dread tackling and the reason why (ignoble automotive abberations aside) I’ve largely steered clear of the Pixar canon in these reviews. They are possibly the most beautiful, perfectly crafted feature length animated movies ever made and that makes them absolute kryptonite to a Snarky Internet Reviewer like me. What the hell am I supposed to make fun of here? “HA HA, look at these idiots and their perfectly crafted and utterly charming meditation on the human condition”? I got nothing to work with here. Nothing!
Alright. Background. So, one day in 1994 John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft sat down in the Hidden City Cafe for a cup of coffee, a chat, and to change the history of animation as we know it (as you do). From this legendary brainstorming session came the ideas that would eventually become A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and WALL·E. No doubt muttering “What the FUCK was in that coffee?” they then paid their bill, and left a generous tip for the waitress along with a cure for cancer that Lasseter had idly scribbled on a napkin. One thing you notice about WALL·E is that it’s not so much one film as two short films starring the same characters. The first is a film about the last robot on earth discovering humanity through its refuse and the second is a sci-fi romp about plucky robots helping the human race overthrow a dictatorial wheel. There’s a reason for that. The first half of the movie, with WALL·E putzing around on Earth, arrived fully formed at that meeting and never changed all through the writing process. The second half, through, got re-written to hell and back and at one point was going to be about a robot uprising against evil aliens called “the Gels”.
This means that WALL·E is the rare movie that not only has fans, but has fans of different parts of the movie. There’s probably someone out there who loves the first half of WALL·E utterly but doesn’t regard the second half as canon. That happens a lot with TV shows. Movies? Not so much. What do I think?
I think this movie is going to kick my ass and make me say “Thank you sir, may I have another?” Let’s just get this over with.
The movie begins in space, to the strains of “Put on your Sunday Clothes” from Hello Dolly. And can I ask, why don’t we see this more often? The pairing of the majesty of deep space with jaunty show tunes from the Golden Age of the American Musical? They work so well together!
The camera then zooms down on a desolate lifeless Earth wreathed in dust and with piles of refuse miles high in all direction and manages to make it look like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen because Pixar.
We now meet our hero, WALL·E, a little robot who’s been left on Earth to clean up the rubbish covering the surface of the Earth and who, if he was any more perfect, would be dying on the cross for our sins. This character is the gold standard for character design in an animated film as far as I’m concerned. The face is wonderfully expressive which is amazing when you consider the face is just eyes and nothing else, the thin neck suggests a baby bird and makes the audience instinctively protective of the character and the boxy body makes him cuddly. He is simply adowable.
The first few scenes of the movie are almost entirely worldless and are a masterclass in visual storytelling. Simply by watching WALL·E and the cockroach he’s befriended (never named in the movie but called “Hal” by the creators) go about their day you learn the following:
- Earth was taken over by a massive conglomerate called Buy and Large (“BnL” to its loyal consumers).
- The Earth become covered with refuse from BnL’s products.
- The entire human race has abandoned the Earth for a luxurious life out in space.
- WALL·E is one of thousands of robots who were left to clean up the Earth.
- Buuuuut it didn’t work and now WALL·E is the only robot left still functioning as he’s kept himself alive by scavenging parts from the corpses of his deceased brethren which is actually pretty creepy when you think about it.
That’s a fairly dense backstory right there and the movie sets it out without any of the main characters saying a word. Actually, let’s go back to the third point there. The more I think of it, the less likely it seems that all human beings were able to get off the planet when the atmosphere went toxic. I mean, Buy and Large is a company, not a charity. To get on to one of their (presumably hideously expensive) space liners you must have had to pay. What happened to the people who couldn’t afford a ticket off-world?
Anyway, after a long day crunching up garbage into little cubes and stacking those cubes into larger cubes, WALL·E decides that he’s all cubed out and heads home. WALL·E lives in a truck that used to house dozens of WALL·E units but as the last one still operating, WALL·E has turned it into a museum of interesting crap that he’s found. Everything from sporks, to cigarette lighters, to rubix cubes. Why, he’s got gadgets and gizmos aplenty! He’s got whos-its and what-sits galore. You want thingamabobs? He’s got twenty.
Speaking of musical numbers, WALL·E’s prize possession is a working VHS copy of Hello Dolly. Which, I’m sorry, bull-shit, there is no way a VHS tape is still working after 700 years in a landfill. Not like Betamax. That shit will still work after the sun’s exploded.
Anyway if this review ends up a little on the short side it’s because this movie is not exactly what you call “plotty”. The bulk of the movie is character beats and sight gags strung on a story that could be described with five lines scribbled on a napkin (and probably was). But two important plot points now occur. WALL·E comes across a tiny plant while cubing and decides to take it home. Of slightly more interest, A HUGE MASSIVE FRUCKIN’ SPACESHIP lands nearby so there’s also that.
The ship launches a flying robot named EVE (Elissa Knight) who looks like nothing so much as a marital aid designed by Steve Jobs. Actually, here’s an interesting thought; EVE is clearly meant to look super futuristic and advanced compared to the boxy, low-tech WALL·E. But WALL·E was built around the same time the Axiom launched and EVE must have been built before Directive A113 was issued to the Axiom warning it not to return to Earth (otherwise, why bother building a robot to survey a planet you already know is irretrievably polluted?) meaning she must have been built within a few years of Axiom’s launch (most likely she was already part of the ship’s robot crew before the launch) because we see Shelby Forthright (Fred Willard) when the Axiom launches and then again giving directive A113 and he’s around the same age both times. My point is, EVE and WALL·E are almost certainly the same age.
Anyway, EVE waits until the ship has safely flown away and then gives into the impulse to fly joyously through the air. WALL·E watches, absolutely smitten. This, incidentally, is what Pixar does better than anyone and better than anything else they do; not the animation, not the voice acting, not the making-Randy-Newman-tolerable, this; taking inanimate objects and filling them with humanity until they seem more real and human than people.
EVE hears WALL·E following her and almost blows his head off with her arm-laser, which of course a robot who’s only purpose is to find life would need.
When she realises that he’s not a threat though, she ignores him and goes back to scanning the planet and becoming increasingly annoyed when she can’t find what she’s looking for. Finally, after she blasts a flotilla of oil tankers in frustration, WALL·E gets up the courage to talk to her. She asks him what he does (by chirping “DIRECTIVE?”) and he demonstrates by crunching up some rubbish and shitting out a little cube. And it’s not even a good cube.
Okay, clearly this guy has no idea how to approach women. WALL·E ? Wall, my man. Listen up. It’s real simple. When you like a girl you just inspect her anogenital region to make sure she’s in heat. Any other guys start making a move, you just bare your incisors so they know what’s what. Then, all you gotta do is get her in the mood by squeaking vocalisations at around 50kHz ultrasonic. You can try 60kHz but, y’know.
WALL·E takes EVE back to his place…
…and shows her his collection of stuff including the video of Hello Dolly (smooth). They try dancing like the characters on the screen and EVE ends up smashing WALL·E into the wall. E.
He’s damaged but is able to find a spare part amongst the body parts of his former friends that he keeps stashed in his home like Jeffrey Friggin’ Dahmer. He then shows her the plant he found and EVE loses her goddamn mind, tractor beams the plant inside her chest cavity and then goes into sleep mode, with only a flashing green plant icon on her chest showing that she’s even still operable. WALL·E is distraught, trying everything he can think of to wake EVE up but nothing works. So finally, he just makes his peace with it and they while the way the long days in an idyllic Weekened At Bernie’s-esque existence. But one day WALL·E leaves for work only to return to find that EVE’s spaceship has come back to take her away. He latches onto the spaceship and gets pulled into space. WALL·E is overcome with the sheer beauty of the cosmos and even tries to get EVE to look at the stars through the window.
The ship arrives at the Axiom and EVE and a load of other recon droids are taken off the ship and cleaned by more robots including my absolute favourite character in this whole damn thing, the one, the only: M-O. I frickin’ love this little guy. He has one goal in life, to clean. And when he meets WALL·E, who is more dirt now, than machine, he fixates on him like a little plastic Ahab.
The Axoim’s head security robot, GO-4, arrives with some flunkies and when he scans EVE and realises that she’s found a plant he raises the alarm and has EVE taken to the bridge with WALL·E following close behind.
Because we cannot have nice things, when this movie first came out it kicked off a backlash among conservatives for supposedly being another example of Hollywood forcing its liberal agenda on an innocent unsuspecting public. This is quite frankly baffling to me as WALL·E is quite possibly the most eloquent and persuasive apologist for conservative values to be released this side of the millennium. And that’s not a criticism, far from it. I may be a liberal, but I’ve always believed that neither side of the spectrum has a monopoly on common sense. WALL·E shows us a future society where mankind has become so completely dependent on the state that it’s basically degenerated to permanent infancy, and where materialism has replaced all sense of the divine. And it makes its argument so coherently and skillfully that it’s kind of hard to disagree with the movie’s points. If conservatives had any damn sense this film would be the new Atlas Shrugged.
And I’m not saying they don’t have any damn sense…
So this is how the movie goes. WALL·E, a Candide-like innocent, wanders through Axiom disrupting all the perfectly maintained systems and basically spreading humanity like a virus and setting off a chain of events that leads to the overthrow of an entire social order.
EVE, with WALL·E in tow, is taken to the bridge where the ship’s autopilot, AUTO (voiced by MacInTalk THE ROBOTS ARE COMING AND THEY WILL KILL US ALL) who awakens the Axiom’s Captain, McCrea (Jeff Garlin) and tells him that one of the probes has found a plant on Earth. He then shows McCrea an instruction video from the BnL CEO Shelby Forthright telling McCrea to put the plant in the ship’s scanner which will cause the Axiom to jump back to Earth. But oh noes! When they open EVE up the plant is gone and McCrea says that EVE must be defective. And the look on EVE’s face is priceless. Let’s just say McCrea can probably thank his lucky stars for Asimov’s first law of robotics and leave it at that. EVE gets sent to maintenance for a check up and WALL·E goes with her but not before shaking hands with McCrea. He leaves some dirt on McCrea’s hand which McCrea half interestedly analyses which leads to him learning that “dirt” is called “earth” which just sends him on a binge down the wiki wormhole.
EVE goes in for maintenance but WALL·E thinks she’s being tortured and ends up busting her and all the other crazy malfunctioning robots out of there. EVE, realising that WALL·E is nice and all but is also a threat to the social order, decides to launch him in an escape pod back to his home planet. Yeah. I had an internet girlfriend visit from Germany one time. Same problem. Same solution.
But! As they go to the launch bay they see GO-4 put the plant in an escape pod and launch it into space. WALL·E and EVE rescue the plant and then stop to have one of the most beautifully romantic scenes in all of animated cinema…
And they head back to the bridge to give McCrea the plant. McCrea has now fallen in love with the whole idea of Earth and orders AUTO to place the plant in the holo-scanner but AUTO refuses. He then shows McCrea a second video from Forthright ordering AUTO to stay away from Earth because the planet is polluted past the point of no return. McCrea realizes that the message was broadcast 700 years ago so that obviously it’s probably not up to date with the word on the street. He again orders AUTO to put the plant in the holo-scanner. AUTO’s all “I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave” and the wheel turns heel, confining McCrea to quarters and throwing WALL·E and the plant down the waste disposal. EVE flies down and manages to save him from being crushed into a cube and thrown into space by his big brothers the WALL·As, massive versions of WALL·E the size of an office building (man, those probably would have been useful cleaning up, y’know, the EARTH). WALL·E is badly damaged but still tries to give EVE the plant but she throws it away, signifying that he is now more important to her than her directive. And WALL·E’s all “That’s real sweet…but that plant will get me back to Earth…where all my spare parts are…and I’m dying…” and she’s all “Oh right. Sorry.”
WALL·E and EVE race to get to the holo scanner assisted by their crazy robot pals and McCrea battles AUTO to retake control of the ship. The AXIOM warps back to Earth and EVE flies WALL·E to his truck and desperately tries to repair him. She does, but at a terrible cost: WALL·E has been restored to factory settings and doesn’t remember anything about EVE or his new friends, and just goes about crunching up garbage into little cubes. But just as EVE has given up all hope, she leans in to kiss him and a little spark passes between them. And just as she’s about to pull away he reaches out and takes her hand and oh God I can’t do this it’s just too perfect and beautiful everything looks like tears…
Beautiful, gorgeous, sweet, magnificent, hilarious, heart-breaking, just a real good way to eat some popcorn. One of the very best movies by one of the very best movie studios of all time.
Animation 20/20: The end of the world has never looked so gorgeous and, without a doubt, some of the most beautifully subtle character animation I’ve ever seen.
Leads 20/20: Sure they’re just appliances with all the vocabulary of your average pokémon but this is still one of the great love stories of the age.
Villain 16/20: Pixar overcome their only real weakness to create a villain who is genuinely sinister and memorable, even if he doesn’t have that much screentime.
Supporting Characters 20/20: Yes. This is entirely for M-O.
Music 19/20: Take Thomas Newman’s beatuiful, haunting score, mix in some Hello Dolly, classical pieces like Also Sprach Zarathurstra and The Blue Danube top it off with the absolutely gorgeous We’re Going Down by Peter Gabriel and you’ve got yourself one hell of a soundtrack.
FINAL SCORE: 95%
NEXT UPDATE: 17 November 2016
NEXT TIME: “On your left…”