Friday, July 11, 2008

WALL•E: One short roll for a robot, one giant leap for animation

Take a few minutes to play with this widget (especially the videos). It's very cool.

I went to see WALL•E with my niece recently and loved it.

Once again, PIXAR has moved the bar higher for feature animation. But even though WALL•E is currently doing well at the box office, I have questions about whether or not it will enjoy the same kind of blockbuster box office success as Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, the Toy Story movies and Monsters, Inc. The reason? The basic plot of the movie and its experimental nature might narrow its audience appeal.

The plot? Humans have vacated the Earth, which is in a toxic, uninhabitable state, and left behind Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class (WALL•E) robots to clean it up. Seven hundred years have passed, and the Earth is still in terrible shape. Only one single WALL•E remains active, but the little guy has developed an inquisitive, childlike personality that makes him a special survivor.

Meanwhile, the errant human race is vacationing on a super-luxury space-liner where robots wait on them hand and foot. Everyone has become obese and indolent — and they have forgotten all about the Earth.

The original builders pre-programmed the space-liner to send a periodic Earth probe to look for plant life, indicating that humans could return. The probe, EVE, arrives on Earth and lonely little WALL•E falls lenses-over-treads in love with her. But EVE finds a living plant and must return to the mother ship. WALL•E stows away and, well... I shouldn't say much more except that he is a catalyst that changes everything.

Outside of the little robot's love story, the plot is conceptually based on extrapolations of the extreme ultimate consequences from pollution, global warming and a consumerist society. Don't expect kids under nine or ten years of age to fully comprehend. Also, the only dialog spoken during the first half of the film consists off two words, "WALL•E" and "EVE." This could prove attention challenging for some.

On the other hand, the little WALL•E robot is the strongest character PIXAR has developed to date, and highly entertaining to watch. As a result, the movie is a hilarious visual romp. The hour and 37 minute film is very, very innovative — experimental even — in structure and execution and demonstrates PIXAR's absolute mastery and leadership in animated features.

The first half of WALL•E is essentially a silent movie. The characters owe more to Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Tom and Jerry than any modern influences. The Sound Effects division has an unprecedented responsibility to carry the plot forward along with the character animators. This was an incredible creative risk that ultimately paid off from a purely artistic standpoint. The film is chocked full of slapstick humor and amazing imagery. One feels totally immersed in the fantastical settings of a decrepit earth and fully-robotic luxury space-liner.

WALL•E and the other robots are cute and funny. The animated humans are even cute in a creepy kind of way. There are lots of pratfalls that will make you laugh out loud. So, I could be wrong about narrower audience appeal. I hope so. I'd hate to see PIXAR's creative minds fettered in any way because of a disappointing box office.

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