Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Parrothead Review: WALL-E





For more time than I am willing to admit I’ve been trying to write something at least half way deserving of Disney/Pixar’s new film “WALL-E”. I’ve simply been unable to express in words how much of a home run the masters at Pixar have achieved yet again on several different levels. For me their high mark was “Finding Nemo” for both the story and how well the colors exploded on the screen as Marlin began his epic journey to find his son. While this movie was very different from all their others I have to say that it still held my daughter’s attention the entire time while offering some very adult ideas for grownups to mull over.

The opening scenes depart greatly from the bright living colors Pixar has done in its other movies. Dusty beige and browns dominate a dead world showing skyscrapers being overshadowed my huge towers of compacted trash. Flying over the long dead city we see huge signs everywhere for “Buy-N-Large” something that might be described as the mutant corporate offspring of a mating between Halliburton and Wal-Mart. From the visuals we learn “Buy-N-Large” dominated retail sales, banking, public transit, and just about every aspect of life before Earth was abandoned. At ground level we are shown mounds of un-compacted refuse and moving amongst the detritus we find Walle doing the job he was programmed to do seven-hundred years earlier. Walle is the last of his kind whose job it was to collect, compact, and organize the trash for some sort of global clean-up that the president of Buy-N-Large assured would take only five years as the planet was evacuated . During that time away from the planet people would enjoy having their every whim met by an armada of service robots aboard huge luxury starships. I will have to be forgiven but given the nature of Buy-N-Large apparent total global corporate takeover I had to wonder what happened to the poorer customers on the dying planet that may not have been able to afford a berth on the interstellar versions of the Love Boat.

Whatever the final disposition of humanity or the project Walle and his defunct kin were tasked with he goes about his daily chores but after many centuries the little robot has developed a curiosity about the discarded items he finds. Things like a cigarette lighter, common light bulb, and bubble wrap arouse his curiosity but his most treasured procession is a betamax copy of “Hello Dolly” that he watches at the end of his work day as he takes refuge in some sort of broken down transport. From this we also learn the little robot is not just curious but we are given numerous hints he has long since exceeded his programming and become a little lonely.

Things get interesting with the arrival of a spaceship that deposits a gleaming white robot that goes about scanning everything around it searching for something. The new robot is Eve and right from the start Walle is smitten over the new robotic stranger. At first Eve doesn’t even know Walle exists and comes close to blasting him to atoms a couple of times but after some close calls the two finally get to know each other. Walle eventually takes her to his place to show off his collection of humanity’s trash and to make some simple and innocent robotic moves on Eve. Eve is fairly unimpressed with Walle’s stuff until he shows her a simple living green weed that he had found while working and had transplanted to an old shoe. Eve quickly takes the plant, stores it inside her and shuts down. Walle is worried and heart broken but stands guard over her until to his surprise she is picked up by the same ship that dropped her off taking her off the planet. Like any guy in love Walle refuses to simply let her go and hitches a ride on the ship that takes her carrying him off as well.

I won’t go any deeper into the story, but I will say that to a great extent the situation and visuals do depart from the usual kid’s movie. I referred earlier to how Pixar scored a homerun with this movie because if you step back and look at the entire forest instead of just the simple trees this movie is a strong statement against mega-corporations that answer to no one, sickening American hyper-consumerism, and the destruction of the environment. For me, one of the funniest and strongest images had to do with Walle hanging onto the spaceship carrying Eve and passing real close to one of the Apollo landing sites. As the ship and Walle continues out we are shown a Buy-N-Large corporation sign proclaiming the impending construction of an outlet mall on the moon. Here in South Carolina as unregulated developed has destroyed much of what people came down south to enjoy in the way of nature and culture, after the golf course and gated communities outlet malls symbolize for me the worst aspects of the tourist industry and population growth.

Humans do make an appearance in this movie and right from the start I was intensely curious about Pixar actually having a real man and woman appear in film along with Fred Willard who makes a cameo as the global CEO of Buy-N-Large. As the movie progresses I learn why they went to the extreme to show real people. After seven-hundred years aboard luxury starships the descendants of those who fled Earth having their every whim met bear a far stronger resemblance to Jabba the Hut than the unnamed slim and attractive couple that Fred Willard’s character showed boarding the starship during the evacuation. Taking the couch potato syndrome to the bizarre people now move only by floating on some sort of ant-gravity easy chair never taking their eyes off a holographic screen floating in front of them. Legs are little more than numbs never used and the only use for arms is to reach for some super-sized drink that a tiny robot butler supplies a person as the last drink has been finished. At one point we are introduced to the human captain of the starship Walle ends up on while trying to stay with Eve. As the captain goes about his duties on the bridge we see behind him the seven-hundred year “evolution” of humans as the pictures of former captains’ show each one becoming just a little more rounder as the centuries progressed much in the same way a famous painting show humanity evolving from ape to Homo sapien. Lending much to the argument of me forcibly ending my son’s renewed interest in his Nintendo Wii and making him run a mile or two every couple of days.

Simply put this is a great movie. Some will completely miss all the images I write about and their greater meaning only seeing the entertainment value of a cute robot. Others will find this movie too preachy and maybe even some sort of liberal propaganda given that it dares to criticize in a cartoon manner the lifestyles and wasteful nature of many. Yes, I personally saw the greater meaning in the movie and I agreed with it completely. Decades ago when the world’s population was much smaller and poorer America committed the sin of blithely ignoring the waste and pollution it created and its affects on the rest of the world. Earth was a big place and the idea that little humans could make a harmful mark on it carried an air of arrogance they felt. Now we are approaching seven billion people on the planet with only fools and liars claiming that our actions and lifestyles are too small to affect the world we share. The difference this time it’s not just lazy Americans, the rest of the world after centuries of oppression and poverty wants what we have and quite simply the planet ain’t got it in her. Natural resources are running thin, despite some honest efforts pollution is getting worse, the oceans are threaten due to over fishing, and the entire planet is warming due to CO2 emissions. Several times half jokingly I’ve written how I believe humans are not an intelligent species. We seem unable to move beyond the basic survival program that millions of years have hardwired in our brains. At some point the species as a whole will have to acknowledge the fact that we cannot go on like we are currently. Adjustments and sacrifices will have to be made for the sake of everything will hold dear beyond the realm of material processions. With us Americans having to pull our collective asses from our butts and come to terms with what we have done for the sake of cheap CD’s and fast food. The humans in WALL-E had the chance to board spaceships and cruise among the stars to avoid the worst aspects of what they wrought. Here in the real world we will not have the same advantage and our own time is running out.

32 comments:

Vigilante said...

So, Beach, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, and Red Dawn being a 5.0, where would you rate Wall-e?

Vigilante said...

I'm confident you won't miss Cinema Suqared's review!

J McKiernan said...

Beach Bum,

I am delighted to see another glowing review of this beautiful film. Yes, about 98% of the film critic community have praised it, but as one who have found WALL-E to be so brilliantly beautifully moving and thought-provoking, I am overjoyed that another of my fellow bloggers has taken the time to write about the power of this movie.

I spent a lot of time on my own review over at Cinema Squared--as Vig alluded to--but I still feel I haven't done the film justice.

WALL-E is absolutely a landmark experience, one that will reverberate in the filmmaking community for a long time to come. I am so glad you loved it, too.

Beach Bum said...

Vigil: Honestly, a 10. I've never ever claimed to be an expert on movies I just know what I like and WALL-E was an unbelieveable experience.

J Mckiernan: Like I just wrote I know next to nothing about the art of making movies. I like to pick at Vigil over the movie "Red Dawn" because as a much younger guy just out of all the brainwashing involved with army basic training my fellow soldiers and I were allowed to go see it. And being honest I like action films anyway. But WALL-E was for me art in the highest order.

Mike said...

My wife went to see it yesterday and she really loved it.

Beach Bum said...

Mike: My daughter and I were going to go see it again today but my wife has talked her into going to see "Kit Kitredge, An American Girl". I am sure its a fine movie but my daughter might stay ten minutes before running out of the theater.

Utah Savage said...

I usually don't read reviews of kids films since I have no kids or grandkids to take to these films, but knowing the way you write, I stayed with this one. Great shift from the movie to the real world mess we're in. Thanks for making it worth the trip, as alway. Love your writing Beach.

J McKiernan said...

"I usually don't read reviews of kids films because I have no kids or grandkids to take to these films..."

Right...that is exactly a point I made in my own review: we all categorize groups of films into "adult" (aka: important) and "kids" (aka: unimportant unless you have kids). But the fact is, not only is WALL-E far superior to nearly every other 2008 film no matter what its category, it is more adult than anyone realizes. In fact, like "Ratatouille" before it, it is more a film for adults than children. But because Pixar understands that many kids want to be challenged, it works for children as well. Either way, you have to engage your brain and your heart when you see the film.

Beach Bum said...

Utah: It was impossible for me to come away from the movie without realizing what it was trying to say. I'm not holding my breath for many more people in my area to do the same.

j mckiernan: Your expertise on this subject shines through on WALL-E being more of an adult film. Now for me I had no idea walking into the theater it was such. The dead city scenes rival that of Will Smith's last movie "I am Legend".

Randal Graves said...

Ah, a few more wars'll thin out the herd.

This certainly sounds like an excellent movie. Kids are still bugging me about Indiana Jones. Better take some time off. ;-)

Keshi said...

I love Kids' movies..cos Im such a kid. yes. LOL!

Keshi.

Beach Bum said...

Randal: I have a nasty feeling the earth itself will have a hand in thinning out the herd. Too many new viruses and old ones growing immune to drugs and with worldwide travel the ability to spread is far too easy. Throw in climate change and ecological collapse to make matters worse.

Keshi: Go see it the first chance you get. You will love it.

J McKiernan said...

Regarding the "dead city scenes" in "I Am Legend"...

You are very right. In fact, that point is tangentially related to another surprising and brilliant experience of 2008, "Hancock." Will Smith is not only the biggest movie star in the Milky Way, he chooses his projects with such care and such great ambition that his savvy is greatly underestimated, I think.

"I Am Legend" was billed as a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller...but it was much more quiet and intimate than anyone expected. It was actually a powerful film--not an action picture.

"Hancock" is just as surprising and powerful as was "Legend," though it is certainly a COMPLETELY different film altogether. But it is another case of Will Smith getting involved in projects that are not just dumb franchise flicks, but films with a great deal more complexity than people are expecting...and judging by the film's critical reception thus far, more complexity than some really WANT (read my review for more info on that).

It's a shame, too, because there is real depth to the material in "Hancock," and it is, for me, one of the landmark experiences of this summer...right alongside "WALL-E."

rantravereflect/ jane said...

wel, now i must watch this movie.. though ,in india, i think everything takes it own sweet time.. duhhhh :(

i'm sure i'll lov it :)

Beach Bum said...

A timely review BB ... we took our three to see Prince Caspian and the trailers for WALL-E had the kids sit up. We won't get the movie here until the 16th July ... looks like we'll be munching more popcorn soon, though.

Vigilante said...

I have to concede the last remnants of my sckepticism about this animiated film when I read that one of my favorite writers, Frank Rich has featured it recently in the NYT! Excerpts:

SO much for a July Fourth week spent in idyllic celebration of our country’s birthday. This year’s festivities were marked instead by a debate — childish, not constitutional — over who is and isn’t patriotic.

..... In our political culture, only one question mattered: What was Wesley Clark saying about John McCain and how loudly would every politician and bloviator in the land react?

Unable to take another minute of this din, I did what any sensible person might do and fled to the movies. More specifically, to an animated movie in the middle of a weekday afternoon. What escape could be more complete?

Among its other attributes, this particular G-rated film, “Wall-E,” is a rare economic bright spot ..... this movie may exceed its audience’s expectations. It did mine.

Indeed, sitting among rapt children mostly under 12, I felt as if I’d stepped through a looking glass. This movie seemed more realistically in touch with what troubles America this year than either the substance or the players of the political food fight beyond the multiplex’s walls.

..... While the real-life grown-ups on TV were again rebooting Vietnam, the kids at “Wall-E” were in deep contemplation of a world in peril — and of the future that is theirs to make what they will of it. Compare any 10 minutes of the movie with 10 minutes of any cable-news channel, and you’ll soon be asking: Exactly who are the adults in our country and who are the cartoon characters?


Wake me up when it's out in DVD, will you?

Stella said...

Award for Beach

HILLBLOGGER said...

bit late on the greeting front Beach but here's to you and your family on july 4th!

Hip hip hourra!

Beach Bum said...

J mckiernan: I wrote a review myself of "I am Legend" back in December of 2007 and I thought the same thing about it. It was far more than a simple zombie flick which I admit a basic weakness for. (As a side note I'm eagerly waiting for the film version of Max Brook's "World War Z".) If you get a minute check it out my review of "Legend". I was impressed with what I thought it tried to say about humanity.

rantravereflect/jane: Welcome, and please feel free to came back anytime. The movie is fantastic and I admit that it added fuel to a long simmering fire in my feeble head that Americans have long ago lost whatever sense they claimed to possess. I came from a relatively poor family in the American south and the materialistic greed that most Americans seem to wallow in these days would mystify many I lived around in the late 60's and early 70's. These days it seems to be all about buying the newest gadget, the biggest house, and living a far richer lifestyle than someone can actually afford. In many ways I'm stuck in the middle of all this and until my kids are grown stuck hoping the United States doesn't have a complete economic and societal meltdown. My grandparents were children of the 1930's Depression and while I remember only a few of the stories they told me of that time and I do not believe most Americans right now could survive something similar. So in many ways I saw WALL-E as a cautionary tale.

Beach Bum: I don't know how much they charge for popcorn in theaters on your side of the pond but I've started to smuggle M&M's and other simple candies to keep my daughter happy and only buying a drink. Its unbelievable how much they charge here for damn popcorn. Have a great time when WALL-E makes it to your end.

Vigil: I read the same column Sunday. And I have to agree with Rich, caught a good bit of the news during lunch time today and they spent far more time on the A-Rod divorce and his possible affair with Madonna. With the world going to hell in melting glacier waters all they could discuss was lurid stories only fit for Jerry Springer. Who are the adults in our country and who are the cartoon characters? Beats the living shit out of me.

Stella: Thank you so much. What was Sally Field's famous Oscar speech? ""You like me, you really like me,..."

Beach Bum said...

HillBlogger: Thank you so much and I hope this country lives up to the principles it was founded on again someday. Its hard for me to watch or read some history of our early years and not feel shame on how we have fallen. The Founding Fathers were far from perfect and the sins of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans will forever be a cross we have to bear but some of us in this country do still feel a desire to continue to try and make this a better place and live up to the promise that was made in 1776. Best wishes and good luck to you as well my friend.

Colonel Colonel said...

Great review- we really must go see this.

lime said...

i've been wanting to see this. maybe i can convince both my kids to come along. ;)

Beach Bum said...

Colonel and Lime: I'm going to go see it again. Whenever I go to a movie a second time I always find more hidden sight gags that I missed especially in a Pixar movie.

Stella said...

Of course I like you, I really like you, beach!

K.C. said...

Glad to get the reveiw. Was thinking of taking the kiddos. Now, I just think we will go this weekend... See, you just had an affect on someone... Kayce

Beach Bum said...

Stella: You are the tops as well.

KC: Have a great time and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

MadMike said...

Beach I apologize for being so negligent in my blog postings. My niece (18) is visiting from St. Louis and I have been busy, busy, busy. Regardless one of the first things we did was go to see Wall-E. We were a little late so we were forced to sit in the front row, which I hate. But even with that I found this movie a delight for the eyes. I loved it!! Thanks for the great review!

Beach Bum said...

MadMike: I'm in a similar situation here at the house. As I have written several times Spoilboy demands a great deal of time on the computer for his MySpace and Facebook accounts. As much as I do like to blog once he does give up the computer I have found that after a long day I can't think of a thing to say.
As far as the movie is concerned I'm still in awe over the statement it made.

The Zombieslayer said...

Nice review.

Here in South Carolina as unregulated developed has destroyed much of what people came down south to enjoy in the way of nature and culture, after the golf course and gated communities outlet malls symbolize for me the worst aspects of the tourist industry and population growth.

Here too, my friend. With the population explosion, mainly by illegal immigration in California, a lot of places that used to be nice aren't any more.

Maybe I should check this movie out. right up my alley.

Beach Bum said...

Slayer: My biggest concern on my end is how the development is resulting in tons of fertilizer for lawns making its way to the shallows on the coast killing a great deal of the lower end animals on the food chain. This is resulting in bull sharks coming closer to beach and taking nips out of more swimmers.
I am told that years ago the surfers never were worried about bulls when they saw the fins. Now when there is a bull sighting its a rush to shore.

Dr. Know said...

Most Excellent!

Melvin said...

Great story...
interesting post...
Thanks for sharing......

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