Monday, September 01, 2008

WALL-E: MOVIE REVIEW

Cast (Voices): Ben Burtt (Wall-E), Elissa Knight (EVE)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Runtime: 98 min.
Rating: *****
Genre: Animation, Comedy

        I still am wondering, who they had in mind when Wall-E was created with those wide round big eyes, with that large head over a narrow neck. Was it that anxious edgy Woody Allen? Or was it Buster Keaton? The unanimated way in which Wall-E goes about his daily life reminded me of the robotic Keaton in Sherlock Jr., and the way the plot went uphill and then down, even The General. There’s goofy Chaplin in there too, running out the advances of the world ala Modern Times, the center of the pandemonium every which where he sets foot. Maybe it is all of them, imbibing from an era of purity long gone. You remember that final scene in City Lights, where the tramp and the flower girl meet each other? In its moments of silence, when no plot impedes it, when there is just Wall-E and Eve on the screen, this animated gem reaches such dizzying heights of simple earthly beauty.
        There’s a plot. How I wish there wasn’t one. I felt a struggle in there, between a relatively complex Pixar concoction, and the magical simplicity of silent nothing. The film starts on the former, and there’s precious little by way of human dialogue as Wall-E, acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class, goes about his programmed directive – mashing junk into cubes and arranging a skyline out of their piles. The earth is littered with toxic waste, and has been long deserted by humans. This, of course, we learn from a banner. Wall-E says nothing, he rolls along doing his job with great sincerity, and alongside collects odds and ends from the trash he doesn’t comprehend but which he finds fascinating. There’s a cigarette lighter, there’s a fork and there’s a huge swiveling rack of them. Of course, there’re his spares too. In the night, when there’s nothing to do, Wall-E watches a video of Hello Dolly! on an i-pod and wishes he wasn’t so alone, and lonely. He isn’t completely alone out there, though. He has a neat little pet in a sprightly little cockroach, and when Wall-E accidentally steps on him we cringe in our seats and find ourselves shocked. And when Wall-E discovers no harm has been done, there’s a reaction muttered which I wouldn’t dare spell out here and would rather find it safer to say it found an echo that instinctively drew out of an audience roughly two-hundred in strength. Including me. Only later did I realize that it was a roach I was so worried about, and I usually am a prowling vigilante of the dark when it comes to them, my favored weapon being a spray. Never mind, Pixar does that trick again, and again. The roach here, just as the rat in Pixar’s previous creation, isn’t something that has been morphed to appeal to our tastes. It is brown and glistening, just as I find them in the night, with that very shape and yet that roach in here is cute. And yeah, just as in the night, this one here doesn’t say a word.
        That’s a great ambition Pixar has been vying for of late. To make something as close to life as possible, without any adulterations or obvious props to make them likable, but to instead create a visual imagery that appeals to us within an instant. Like those silent films did it all those years ago. Those films knew just when to show the placard and when to let the viewer understand it by himself. Often, a dialogue at the wrong time shatters the scene, shatters the atmosphere and leaves the bad taste of a false artificial note. Going by the number of silent films I have seen, I believe, in terms of ratio they got it right more often. Of course, don’t quote me on this anywhere.
        Wall-E, for a large part of its initial hour is more or less a silent film. And that, in our age, is doubly challenging. But of course, this is Pixar we’re talking about and they create such evocative images Chaplin and Keaton would have been proud of. Maybe, even jealous of. The only word we hear the robot say is various renditions of ‘aw’ and for a minute it seems the word awe was born here, for here, in all its forms and glory.
        And then, the Gods up there soften up on him and send him company. It is Eve, but the way Wall-E pronounces it is incredibly more romantic. This is where we become part of blissful magic. There’s wit, there’s emotion and all of it done without much dialogue. This is narrative ingenuity, and the clarity brought in me a sense of exhilaration I have rarely felt of late. Of a certain anticipation, that this would be a terrific silent film. One which isn’t because it is trying to force upon us a gimmick, but is one because it needs to be one.
        And then, the plot arrives.
        And Wall-E, turns into more standard fare. And by standard, I mean the usual levels of Pixar, which is still pretty decent. I wouldn’t divulge too much here, and as a matter of fact I do not need to in order to make my point. And I have two, here. One, as I have already mentioned, Wall-E would have made for a great silent film. Yes, I agree, I’m arguing for something which the film isn’t. But what if the film went the full distance? Yes the story we get is immensely fun, but did we really need it. The way I see it, this is Pixar’s most hammer-laden film to date. That is fine when it comes to lesser animated fare like Happy Feet, because they can’t afford much ingenuity by way of content. And here is my second, I wonder if we really need messages concerning humanity from Pixar. Maybe yes for you, but maybe no for me. At least not when proceedings drop down by a notch or two. See, there’s obviously a whole lot of potential here, places where the film could have gone, places that would have absorbed us right into the core of that magic. Where it goes though is where humans are stereotyped, and I wouldn’t want to get into the details. Not that I would argue with the imagination on hand, and the whole construction of the satire is hilarious. Every which way. I was probably laughing the loudest when Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra finally thrust the human into action. Maybe, as Cronenberg says, all stereotypes turn out to be true and the signs are that the one shown here pretty well might.
        Still, I felt proceedings to be a little heavy-handed. Maybe because, it is Pixar, and alongwith a few they’re the only ones who’re taking the medium forward. Both technically and narratively. And I have this resident feeling inside that just keeps blurting out whenever it is I think of Wall-E – opportunity missed. Was it? I guess, and I could be wrong. Once the majority of the plot unravels, events in Wall-E move a little too swiftly, with a little too much pace and with a little too much obligation. This contrast, between the gentle and poetic sweep of the first half-hour and the force of the later part is the struggle I felt and I felt kind of jarred. There definitely isn’t a blend here, and the film felt like sawed off into two parts.
        I know now how audiences must have felt when they watched City Lights. Probably what we feel during those moments between Wall-E and Evaaa is something similar, and probably more awe-inspiring and touching, for we don’t usually get to have such simple visual imagery laid out for us. And such heartfelt characters. It doesn’t matter most of them are robots, and most of them do not talk.
        Is it Pixar’s greatest creation? Thanks, but I’ll give that question a pass. How could one choose between steaming hot Chole Bhature, a lavish Biryani or say, Ratatouille. Aha, you knew that was coming, didn’t you? Look, the Toy Story movies are something very, very close to my heart, yet I wouldn’t be able to choose between these films. They say Cars is the weakest of all Pixar’s creations and I savored it thrice on the big screen, and quite a lot of times on DVD. I have no idea about Wall-E, but I know I’m going again tonight. And yeah, if I wasn’t clear, count me in for the November release of the DVD too.
        Look, I’m not one of those who is a sucker for anything remotely animated thrown at me. Apart from the first two Shrek films, which I thought were good, I’m not sure Hollywood has come up with even a single animated film of note to date in this decade. Maybe yes, The Polar Express. Films as mediocre as those Ice Age films, or that awful Panda doing kung-fu is a testament to the fact that animated divisions of big studios look upon animation as a genre. What they release is products, to cater to the kids in a very specific way i.e. laughs and get the money back. What Pixar and great animators like Hayao Miyazaki are striving for is expression, and for them animation is a medium. A medium that is infinitely more powerful and wide-reaching than its cousin cinema itself. With Wall-E animation, both as a medium of artistic expression and a source of genuine and rich entertainment, has taken a very significant stride forward. I wonder though, could it have been a leap?


Note: If you’re a fan of Pixar you would want to buy this wonderful new book titled The Pixar Touch, an insightful read into the makings of this organization. You would want to grab the DVD too which is releasing in North America on November 18th. Going by the track record, there ought not to be much, if any, delay in the release here.

7 comments:

anand said...

i watched this movie as a part of a special premiere for all disney employees. i will tell u what this is an oscar movie not a BO one.
But its an awesome movie

man in the iron mask said...

Oh dear! Are you a Disney employee? What a privilege!

And I agree with you Anand, this is a film that is worthy of most awards in town. I am having the sneaking suspicion that two of the landmark films of our times, this one here and The Dark Knight, might end up with an Oscar snub. And I believe they might severely dent an already jaded reputation which is facing dwindling viewership.

- Satish Naidu

Sam Spade said...

I think this one is better than The Dark Knight in many ways. When the hollywood is busy with the movies in which they want us to see more and more violence, more efficient Superheroes, here comes the one movie which portrays one robot's desperate attempts of holding another robot's hand. It is worthy of a standing ovation.

man in the iron mask said...

I would beg to differ with you here, Sam. I believe The Dark Knight is more immense, and in a way more relentless motion picture. And certainly a more of a landmark achievement, in my opinion that is.
I’m not sure Batman is very efficient in The Dark Knight, and he ends up losing everything. It is an extremely tricky edge when we decide to pass any judgment about Batman’s success/failure, because on one end we see everything that could possibly be summoned by the forces of the world thrown at him. And on the other Gotham is at a lower level (crime-wise) at the end of the film. Batman has lost his girlfriend, he has lost his one true hope of a hero. And what’s more, there’s great tragedy taken from the fact he doesn’t know Rachel wouldn’t have married him.
Yet the film, at the end, fills us with hope.
There’re great many threads, great many subtexts going on in The Dark Knight to dismiss it as depressing or violent or a summer actioner. It is much more, much much more.

And I wish so desperately they nominate Wall-E in the mainstream category, and not club with animated pictures that aren’t even a fraction deserving its company.

- Satish Naidu

anand said...

the problem for this movie was it was released just b4 the dark Knight phenomena hit the earth. i am guessing had it released somewhere abt now it wud have set the cash registers ringing. it had a decent collection abt 350 mil but such movies need to be BO bonanzas or it sets a very bad precedent for movies of this genre. i know disney has deep pockets but u know the pixar geniuses deserve more. this movie is a not a run of the mill feel good movie, its a classic. i put it up there with all other pixar gr8s. eagerly waiting for toy story 3

PS: nope i aint no disney employee(fat chance with my infy bckgrnd) but my fiance is. she even met the Ratatouille animators.

Trippman said...

"I still am wondering, who they had in mind when Wall-E was created with those wide round big eyes"
binoculars:
http://www.firstshowing.net/2008/06/23/interview-wall-es-writer-and-director-andrew-stanton/

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks a ton for the link, Trippman.

Cheers,
Satish Naidu