WALL-E

Tuesday 1 July 2008

I saw Pixar’s latest, WALL-E yesterday, and am of two minds about it. I really enjoyed it, it’s a great movie. But it’s not as great as all the gushing reviews are making it out.

The first half-hour of the movie is outstanding: it’s a moody evocative story drawn with an apocalyptic palette, with a cute protagonist in the middle of it all. Without words, WALL-E draws us in and makes us feel for him. This is the part of the movie people are talking about when they say it is a great sci-fi film.

The second half of the movie takes place in space, but ironically is where the movie falls under the cartoon gravity of a kid’s movie again. The plot takes over, and simplistic characters and turns are the norm. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great kid’s movie, one of Pixar’s best. WALL-E himself is a great character, a believable robot with big expressive eyes that perfectly convey his emotion to us.

But let’s get something straight: the people who are talking about a Best Picture Oscar are crazy. Forget the insider movie calculus that says it won’t happen: it’s just not that good a movie. It isn’t that it’s animated: WALL-E’s earth-bound segment proves that CGI animation can carry a rich story just fine. It’s that it’s a cartoon: by the time the movie is over, the plot has been neatly wrapped up, a few strange holes in logic have been glossed over, our heartstrings have been expertly tugged, and we can go home happy.

A Best Picture can end happily of course, but stepping back to take in WALL-E’s full structure, you can see that it’s a kid’s movie. That means trading subtlety for some physical humor, all of which is fine, but it means you have to give up your seat at the grown-up’s table. WALL-E is rated G, a sign that the material is mild enough for small children, without the depth of story that a Best Picture needs to have. Oliver! was the only G-rated Best Picture, and that was in the early days of the rating system. It’s hard to imagine it would be rated G today.

I’m not even sure that WALL-E is my favorite Pixar movie. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles I thought did a better job consistently hitting their mark, and finding richness in the stories they told. The ultimate mark of a great story is the development of characters over the course of the movie, and for that, it’s hard to beat Pixar’s first, Toy Story.

Comments

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Pete Lyons 8:51 AM on 1 Jul 2008

My wife took six kids to see WALL-E yesterday. All thought it was just OK. Those that had also seen Kung-fu Panda liked that more.

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Ned Batchelder 9:10 AM on 1 Jul 2008

Ouch! :-)

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Ewan 9:55 AM on 1 Jul 2008

I'll echo your findings. I found the dialog-less parts much more interesting than the people-filled parts. The first 40 minutes seemed to activate a part of my brain that forced me to pay attention to what was going on. There were clues here and there about what happened to earth (and easter eggs) that were fun, thoughtful, and interesting. Something as simple as Wall E's daily routine was filled with all kinds of cool stuff to chew on. The scenery was just incredible, and the relationship between Wall E and Eve (from Wall E's point of view) was warm and touching.

Once they got onto the Axiom, my brain turned off a little. It was like--"Oh, okay--here come the "zany" gags and robot chases and silly jokes "Cupcake in a Cup", etc."

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Peter 10:11 AM on 1 Jul 2008

What is the value of an Oscar to a child (or adult) who is entertained? And to one who isn't?

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Andre 12:44 PM on 1 Jul 2008

@Peter: As opposed to: What is the value of a great movie to a child (or adult)?

I guess this means there is little correlation between great movies and Oscars.

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Michelle 5:42 PM on 1 Jul 2008

I went to see Wall-E with three other adults, a teenager, and two younger children. The children were a bit bored. They were expecting the movie to be fun throughout (like the commercials), however most of the funny parts were in the trailers. I, however, found the movie to be thought provoking. We as humans will be the cause of our destruction. Only the human race can fix the planet Earth. We cannot count on technology (or future generations) to do it for us. I found this movie as thought provoking as several of the nominated best pictures of recent years.... Many times the pictures that are nominated are not ones that children understand or that adults relate to.... many times it is just a movie with a poignant message to society.

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Jeff Atwood 1:45 AM on 2 Jul 2008

I liked wall-e, though it was a bit too reminiscent of "Idiocracy for kids" for my tastes.

Not that Idiocracy isn't a great movie -- it is -- but I've seen it already!

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Giacomo 8:15 AM on 2 Jul 2008

The fact is that 3D is still "for kids". Disney wouldn't pay to produce a full-length sci-fi 3D feature, I'd say nobody would (at least outside of Japan); even the more "adult" features (Shrek, AntZ etc) were always fundamentally kids' movies. From what I read (I still have to see it), the first half of Wall-E is actually a movie for grown-ups, which is progress in itself.

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Darren Kopp 10:53 AM on 2 Jul 2008

I think wall-e is a great movie. My son loved it and that's all I really wanted from it. I like pixar in that they make a movie that both kids and their parents can enjoy, but i won't be watching wall-e again on my own (notice the on my own, because i'm sure i'm going to watch wall-e at least 50 more times). that's why i agree, this is not best picture level. it's a great movie and i'm sure it will take best animated picture, which is fine. but i'd vote ironman or probably the new batman for best picture. although if we let the kids vote, i'm sure this would take best picture in a landslide.

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Dave St.Germain 9:30 AM on 3 Jul 2008

If you want an adult environmental sci-fi movie (including little droids with personalities), see Silent Running. It even contains songs by Joan Baez!

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Ned Batchelder 9:36 AM on 3 Jul 2008

@Jeff: I agree with you that there were strong similarities between WALL-E and Idiocracy in their dystopian depiction of a world overrun by a single corporation. We'll have to disagree as to whether Idiocracy was a good movie or not.. :-)

@Dave: Silent Running is a good movie, well ahead of its time.

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Steve Witham 11:56 PM on 14 Jul 2008

Dave--

The Silent Running soundtrack is one of my favorites. It was composed by Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach). The two songs that Joan Baez sings were written by Schickele and Diane Lampert.

Wall-E makes another nod to Silent Running by passing through the rings of Saturn on the outside of a spaceship. Also the way he picks up the plant is almost the opposite of the tree-planting scene in SR. How about the messages from the president in Wall-E and "Boys, this is Anderson," in SR.

Ned--

Funny to find you by googling for Wall-E "silent running."

--Steve

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Charlie 5:28 PM on 21 Feb 2009

The spirit of Wall-E is original and beautiful, but I agree Silent Running inspired a lot, look:

http://tinyurl.com/b4utqo

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