30 July 2008


Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon
Full credits from IMDb

Grade: A

You’ve already heard—Wall-E is a part of Hollywood’s go-green conspiracy to brainwash our children into obeying Overlord Gore. It’s certainly environmentally conscious, including a scolding speech near the end about a planet in trouble and a do-nothing populace, but such a reading of Pixar’s latest is too easy. Set well into the millennium, the film opens in the majesty of outer space (“there’s a world outside of Yonkers,” croons the soundtrack) before switching to an aerial survey of Planet Earth in ruin—rusted-over and littered, with a skyline of trash-cube skyscrapers. So, Wall-E is anti-waste, sure, but it has an odd and tender affection for artifact, as well—the titular robot, a Sisyphean garbage compactor with only a cockroach for a friend, collects Zippos, bubble wrap, Rubik’s cubes and other assorted tchotchkes from among humanity’s detritus with the same reverence with which we hoard pre-historic earthenware. (This might help to explain the apparent contradiction many commentators have noted [see #3 here] between the film’s politics and its marketing, which includes more than its fair share of landfill-bound merchandising.) Above all, Wall-E is not a critique of the state of things but a condemnation of a mindset. It is not so much anti-waste as it is anti-wastefulness.

As such, the film includes a wicked send-up of American consumerism, from cellphone addiction and gluttony to sloth and corporate reliance. (“Outlet Mall—Coming Soon” reads an electro-flickering billboard on the moon.) The people of Earth have long ago moved to a super space station, at the behest of the film’s Wal Mart stand-in, where they ride on hover chairs, distracted by omnipresent, circumscribing screens. Stanton saves this satire for the latter half of the film, though; the bulk of Wall-E’s introductory section is dialogue-free, instead relying on non-stop visual gags animated with the graceful comic sophistication of a silent-screen comedian. It’s also just about the sweetest goddamn thing ever committed to celluloid, as Wall-E develops a romance with another robot sent to Earth. It’s achingly effective in its simplicity and unaffected emotion. (Neither can say much beyond the other’s name.) This is City Lights territory, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Despite its technofetish (or Macfetish anyway: Wall-E’s start up sound is Apple’s; his companion is Mac-Store white), Wall-E, at root, champions the natural. It encourages the audience to look away from the screens that consume them—iPhones, iPods, iMacs, etc. etc.—because they serve only to alienate us from each other and from our surroundings. The film begs us to delight in life’s most basic pleasures: dancing, swimming, falling in love. Wall-E is careful, though, not to vilify film; it does not ask us to look away from movie screens. Instead, it celebrates filmmaking, especially the Hollywood musical, as a means capable of encapsulating and celebrating all of life’s aforementioned simple joys. In Wall-E, American movies are a romantic ideal. It is in Hello, Dolly!, with which Wall-E has an obsession (it is the only movie he owns, having salvaged a VHS copy), that the robot learns of humanity’s most charming customs—tipping a hat, say, or, most of all, holding hands. It might be a little oversimplified, but that’s why it works: it’s been a long time since any (American) movie managed to make the plain enmeshing of two sets of fingers—robotic digits here, no less—a genuine, tear-inducing icon of romantic purity.

Watch the trailer:

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