2008: AN ENVIRONMENTAL
published June 27,
now playing nationwide
So, what, you want me to admit
Fine, I’ll get the admissions out of the
Wall-E is a brilliantly executed,
technically impressive animated feature about the last pollution-cleaning robot on an abandoned, trash-heap future Earth. God bless the
blistered fingers that ran around a keyboard to create its astounding level of animated detail. I don’t think any animated feature has ever
looked or felt as tactile as this thing. Yet I also find it to be more of a technical accomplishment than an imaginative one.
There is a shot in Pixar’s last film,
Ratatouille, that takes the
Paris skyline and makes tangible its reputation as the City of Lights. In a single frame, it feels like you can reach out and hold the sparkle in
your hand. It’s that illusion of spectacular realism that Pixar seems to be building for, an essential blurring of that made by computer and that
made by billions of years of geological, chemical and biological interaction.
With this, we see the potential dawning of
something new – animated realism. That’s hard to say about a movie centered on young robots in love. Particularly one that takes place in
outer space and on a lonely, trash-choked Earth. But think of it like Kubrick’s 2001, which takes unreal elements and places them in a
convincingly real space. Wall-E pulls a similar trick. Until it reaches space, the film largely avoids animation’s traditional
distorted fantasy, preferring a living, breathing, dusty (alternative) reality.
From its three-dimensional look to the
ominous skyscrapers of rubbish, Wall-E has that feel. But in doing so, it launches the animated
feature into an identity crisis over how far we have come from the pen and the flipbook. Is this the right direction, tossing aside the
dancing-hippo fantasies? I don’t know. Count me as impressed, but hesitant.
Like many classic cartoons, Wall-E is virtually silent. Our two lovebird robots, Wall-E and Eva, only beep and whirr (and chirp out an
electronic version of each other’s name), making goo-goo talk that only R2-D2 could understand. Director Andrew Stanton says that part of his
inspiration was silent comedies of the twenties. It certainly apes them as much as possible.
It’s difficult to talk about Wall-E’s teeming environmental conscience. After all, we all love trees. To the degree that it gives
children a positive message of caring for the world, it’s admirable. However, the film’s premise of an uninhabitable planet indulges in
designer apocalyptic pessimism. Afterward, every candy wrapper falling from your pocket will screw with your kid’s head. As environmental
films go, Wall-E is a bit of a dour scold.
Along these lines, the film possesses a
palpable misanthropic bent, reducing your friends and neighbors to fat and happy dipshits living on milkshakes and gravy in outer space. This
would work as Bradbury-style sci-fi satire if there were any macabre wit about it. But it’s short on wit. And that’s disappointing.
Wall-E is enamored of its own importance,
both in terms of aesthetics and social responsibility. The former is truly groundbreaking. The reaction to the latter will be interesting to
see. While I’m left with hesitations about what it is doing, I have to hail the effort. It certainly isn’t rubbish.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com