Pixar movies were once invincible pillars of the CGI animated world. After Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995) they went on to make hit after hit and usher in the age of CGI as the animated method of choice. Even Disney gave up on hand drawn characters in favour of their 3-D counterparts. With WALL-E, Pixar have won widespread acclaim for their depiction of love, innocence and heart starring a Short Circuit (John Badham, 1986) inspired robot. Touted as a modern classic, the first 45-minutes is a refreshing piece of cinema with only minimal dialogue somehow makes a robot’s ultimately thankless and depressing life humourous and, to a degree, enchanting. Then the twist comes and WALL-E develops into a disappointing offering dedicated to a worthy cause of saving the planet but never recapturing the originality that precedes it.
So what is WALL-E? He is actually the last remaining mini trash compactor robot. Solar powered, he’s stacking all the rubbish on Earth into giant skyscrapers after the human race made trashed it so badly they had to embark on a voyage into outer space to escape the pollution. But with just WALL-E left, how likely is it they will ever be able to return? Over the first half of the film, we see WALL-E go about his business — not in the normal routine that he might have once gone through on a daily basis though. WALL-E has developed a personality from his exposure to the waste of modern society. Set to a backdrop of mass-produced goods and one firm’s dominance of the market place, WALL-E is most excited by that which was once unique: a Rubik’s cube, 1930s cinema, odds and ends, he loves them all in favour of any flashy modern technology. He’s a play with the box, throw away the toy inside kinda boy. Somehow the very real human nature of an adventurous child is captured in WALL-E to charming effect, his simple lifestyle in which every day brings new findings is a state we can all relate to, even if us adults know it’ll never return.
He’s a play with the box, throw away the toy inside kinda boy
WALL-E’s life changes dramatically with the arrival of a sleek and shiny white robot dropped off by a rocket from outer space: an iPod in comparison to his Walkman existence. Attracted to this new arrival called EVE, WALL-E finds himself following her at a distance due to her explosive nature — she’s armed with a deadly laser and shoots anything that moves — but WALL-E wins her over with his gentle nature and engagement with all things impractical to her. Yet a blossoming romance (and yes, there is a genuine romantic connection between the pair) grinds to a halt when WALL-E presents his new-found partner with the only piece of plant life on the planet. Suddenly EVE shuts down and the spaceship returns. Luckily WALL-E is able to hitch a ride and so begins a change of track in the storytelling which loses the simple charm and heads into a dystopic world hiding behind the veil of utopia where overweight humans are ferried around on chairs and looked after by robots aboard a giant cruise-liner spaceship blissfully unaware that they are stuck in a purely consumable lifestyle which stimulate no cultural gain.
If the last line sounds familiar, it’s supposed to be. WALL-E’s filmakers are essentially trying to get the message across that if we all remain as lazy and wasteful as we are now, Earth will reject us and we’ll be cheating ourselves out of the joys life can bring. Victims of their own success, the humans in WALL-E haven’t realised they have made life so detached they are having no input into their surroundings at all. The fear of robots taking control, automated futures and a barren planet are fused here in a perfunctory manner and it’s not long before the unique and varied approach to communicating the story of WALL-E becomes a standard chase and race against time affair. If it wasn’t for the character of WALL-E, this would probably be quickly forgotten, however let’s not forget he is basically Johnny 5 made to clean up rather than kill. The message is the same — human nature must be savoured and will be lost in favour of the cold hands of technology — and the references to our current obsession with fast food, any mechanical device starting with the letter “i” as well as some dubious product placement seem ironic here. You can already buy a load of WALL-E toys which will probably still be decomposing on landfill sites in about 900 years. WALL-E does have something to say and says it very well without much direct communication beyond WALL-E’s timid computerised voice and reactions. The latter part of the film is too heavy handed in comparison as human’s spell it all out so obviously, it’s about as enjoyable as stepping into an eco-friendly, solar-powered shower that has run out of battery during Alaska’s days of darkness after a Glastonbury mud bath. The kids will love it, of course, and they gain a bit more of a moral grounding, it’s just a shame WALL-E brings a disappointing return on such a promising initial outlay in cinematic terms. Pixar need to regain their magic and have faith in their own direction to stay kings of the animated game genre.