I’ve commented before that it’s a testament to Pixar’s animation and storytelling skills that they can make hard, inanimate things like cars or generally uncute creatures like bugs, fish, rats and monsters into adorable, fun characters. That is definitely true of wall-e, where they’ve taken a bunch of robots and made them delightful, cute, and even romantic (after all, what could have been harder or less-lovable than a metal or polymer casing?). There’s been many comparisons between main character wall-e and the live-action movie robot Johnny Five from the 80s Short Circuit movies. There are obvious similarities in appearance and they both bumble around, humourously trying to understand the human world. But I have to give more credit to Pixar’s creators because Johnny Five had the benefit of speaking a lot and interacting with many humans (for goodness sake, he stopped crimes and even got sworn in as an American citizen!) whereas wall-e displays amazing character depth just with robotic gestures and mostly wordless beeps and boops. The commercial for the movie gives a bit of the story: lonely quirky robot toiling alone on an abandoned Earth meets new, cute robot EVE and is immediately “smitten”. EVE gets taken away and wall-e goes after her. However, this movie would not be subtitled “Finding EVE”. There’s a lot more that happens beyond wall-e’s quest to save her. There’s a surprisingly much larger story that involves what happened to the humans after leaving the planet, and their plans to return. As usual, Pixar is not content with merely achieving great animation, they take it to the next level with a well-conceived story and message.
Do I even need to say how good the animation in this movie is? Well, I’ve already implied it, but it’s not just that the robots look really cool (especially EVE, who is essentially the planetary exploration robot as designed by Apple — literally — her look was conceived by the designer of the iPod), there’s also something intangibly lively about them. They achieve expressions and reactions without relying on that terrible animation trick of bending things that don’t bend to simulate a robot smiling or furrowing metal eyebrows. I think it’s all a combination of sounds and gestures that would be feasible if these robots were physically real (further evidence of Pixar’s attention to detail). To be fair, EVE does have a pixel display where her eyes are, so they can change shape pretty easily, but I believe they only have a fixed set of configurations, so it’s not like she can completely mimic human eyes. There’s an adorable cleaning robot who trails the main characters, erasing wall-e’s dirty tracks; and a cruise ship auto-pilot who is surprisingly bossy given that he’s basically a steering wheel with a large red lens in the middle. I cannot say enough how impressed I am by these characters. Frankly (maybe intentionally and ironically), they make the few human characters in the movie seem flat by comparison.
I’m not sure how people write dialogue-free scripts (I assume it’s a lot more stage directions than actual dialogue) but there must have been a lot of thought put into how the animators were going to portray what was going on without words (I can’t wait for them to discuss this in the DVD extras). I wonder if the creators researched mimes or silent films because there’s really no trouble understanding what’s happening in the movie or what the robots are communicating to one another. On the other hand, there were fewer witty jokes because there was a lot less dialogue, but still I was amazed (there’s that word again) at the amount of humour the writers and animators could pack into this film nonetheless. A lot of it is physical humour, but it’s not only about shopping carts crashing into wall-e. There are many laughs that are more subtle and sophisticated than that. The aspect that I was less crazy about was the “romance” between EVE and wall-e. Obviously since this is an animated family movie, the romantic aspects were very tame (think Lady and the Tramp but with robots), but as I could tell from the awwwwwing of teenaged girls around the theatre, I was not the target audience for those moments. For single, over-the-hill me, they were a bit saccharine.
Nevertheless, I have no reservations about declaring that Pixar has done it again. wall-e is a really enjoyable movie and destined to be a classic. Oh, one more thing: don’t be late to the movie because the Pixar short before the main feature is great. Simply put, it’s the showdown between a magician and his rabbit (Yes, it’s cute. There will be awwwwwing.). Oh, oh, one more thing. The end credits on wall-e are pretty neat. They begin with a series of tableaux depicting the story-after-the-story through a history of art styles from cave drawings to Van Gogh, followed by a recap of the movie with Atari style graphics. They’re worth staying in your seat for. (4.5 out of 5)