Took in the wonderful Wall-E a few nights ago with my sister-in-law. (Note: avoid 11:40 p.m. showings on days when you arise at 6:30.) Parentheses aside, it is a testament to a film when you felt yourself nodding off in the middle of it out of sheer exhaustion, but still enjoyed it so much that you wouldn’t leave the theater or let your eyelids meet for anything. This was a great film.
Digression. Among other interesting articles in this month’s Film Quarterly, one (I believe on No Country for Old Men) makes the case that critical analysis notwithstanding, it is important, nay essential, that our essays on films contain a measure of evaluation. For the masses, this is the first and usually only step of responding to a film. For the elit(e/ists), it is the dreaded final step that is often never taken. How much easier it is to give illumination, explanation, and comparison with other works than actually to go out on a limb and say if something is good or not. (Incidentally, the aforementioned article made the provocative case that No Country for Old Men elevated style above content and, therefore, was not that great. See how gutsy that is?)
That being said, the bottom line concerning this film is the bottom line of the top paragraph. The structure of the film was not what I expected; it was much better. The sandwiching effect of beginning and end made for a simple but deeply profound story with a moving resolution. The visual beauty of it is unsurpassed in anything ever done in animated cinema. Nearly any still in the film is worthy of framing and wall-mounting. So much detail, such excellent use of the widescreen format; like Ratatouille, you would think that Wall-E was filmed, not drawn. Who in animation’s earliest days would have thought that animators would become some of he best cinematographers in the art of film? As for the design of Wall-E himself, Pixar has done what was heretofore impossible: created a robot who is loveable, cute, and remarkably animated (in the other sense). The last time someone tried to do that, the result was a movie called Robots that repelled even airline passengers (I know this firsthand).
Then there is the subtlety factor. The Incredibles and Ratatouille were fabulous, but simple they were not. The latter in particular is known for breaking Pixar’s streak of films that could be basically described in one word (if the former didn’t already do that). For all its visual complexity and richness of content, Wall-E is about two robots, one of whom shows the other their mutual need for one another. These characters speak hardly three words total in the film, but they are far wiser than the human refugees floating around the stars getting fat off of the technology to which they have become enslaved. Herein, too, lies the great irony of Wall-E. This film, perhaps more than most, owes its existence to technology. Within the film, Earth is an abandoned dump with only a forgotten robot to compact and stack the trash. As the only sign of life on the planet, Wall-E becomes strikingly human – more human than any of the humans in the film. He is curious, longs for relationship, and is utterly devoid of cynicism despite his circumstances (though cynicism is perhaps a quintessentially human problem). The humans, by contrast, are bored with everything, mindless, and self-centered. A film like this could have easily missed the mark and simply poo-pooed human beings. Wall-E, however, easily avoids preachiness, never forgets who the real subjects of the film are, and somehow still prophecies a stern warning to all of us humans: human laziness is nurtured and fed by self-congratulatory technological progress. The film is biting in its criticism, but more prominent than the frightening picture of what humans could become is the beautiful illustration of simple love that takes all of the technical wonders of Wall-E to the status of masterpiece.