Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wall *E Review


Overall Grade: C+

The latest entry into the Pixar canon is a generally good one. Wall *E features all the requisite Pixar craftsmanship and truly does push the boundaries and standards have computer animated films yet again. Sincere congratulations and acknowledgment should be given for yet another step forward in the genre of animation for the guys and gals at Pixar.

This is Pixar’s most visually epic endeavor to date, and on visuals alone they succeed immensely. There is a simple charm about Wall *E that certainly does evoke some of the great silent comedians of the past, whether that’s Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Like those comedians (especially Chaplin), the Pixar team here (headed by director Andrew Stanton of Finding Nemo) is able to use simple slapstick comedy and shtick to touch a deeper nerve, so Wall *E may have some funny moments with a few objects he finds left behind in the trash, its his connection and desire to keep those things that really hits home with us. I think Wall *E can be recommended for a viewing, on these merits alone. Unfortunately, there is much more to this movie than just what is mentioned above.

I included the positives of Wall *E within the first paragraph because if you just wanted to know whether or not it’s worth a viewing, the answer is yes. If you want my full opinion and review of the film, follow me for the next few paragraphs as I analyze what I felt to be major drawbacks and faults of the film. Please note that there are spoilers about key plot points contained in the following review, so proceed only if you don’t want to know most of Wall *E’s plot.

My main criticisms of Wall *E is that it’s half-hearted, convoluted and contradictory. The film takes place many years into the future when over consumption by the human population (that seems oddly limited to Americans only) has left the earth a barren wasteland of trash, completely uninhabitable by humans. The humans have taken off and live in a giant spaceship where they await their eventual return to Earth. Left behind is Wall *E, a trash compacting robot who’s job is to compact all the trash into little squares and stack them tall like skyscrapers. Eventually, along comes Eve, a sleek scout robot whose mission is to search for signs of life on earth, so that the humans may re-inhabit it. The film clearly blames over consumption by humans as the clear cause of the environmental disaster and apocalypse that engulfs the earth, and it also indicts large corporations like Wal-Mart for their comprehensive success (In Wall *E’s world the company is Buy-N-Large, or BNL for short).

This BNL Company also runs the spaceship that the humans currently reside in, and their reach is total. On the spaceship, humans (through years of inactivity and self-absorbing consumerism) have turned into fat blobs of human beings, eternally residing on floating sofa chairs while they chat away on their virtual screens, at times with their chat partner floating right next to them. Of course, this is all by design of the BNL company who wishes to cater to every need and I guess have 100% market saturation, they even created food in a cup, to make the job of eating even easier.

I charge the movie with half-heartedness because the setting that the film takes place in (post apocalyptic environmental disaster zone, spaceship filled with humans who have turned into gelatinous blobs) is a setting that begs for explanation. We are told that the humans are responsible for it, but we aren’t given any insight into just how this took place. What was the process that leads humans to a fate of inactivity and mindless chatting? I honestly feel that a setting that seems to not only blame humans for ecological disaster and then insult humans by insinuating that this is the eventual future for us, begs for more context and more specificity in how we can turn from this terrible fate. This is what makes the robot meet cute scenes a little disingenuous; for while they are having one cute slapstick moment after another, the movie never takes the time to explain itself. The movie is less interested in explaining its inherently insulting premise than bowling us over for cuteness. Even the film’s resolution and the return of the humans rings hollow, for how could the preceding events in the film have actually lead to real change from these humans?

I say the film is convoluted and contradictory because the messages of the film are all over the place and even at odds. If over-consumption is really the problem that the film wants to tackle, then why not show how over-consumption has ruined their spaceship as well, instead of the ship being a perfectly cleaned and pristine environment? Why not have dwindling resources? Instead, over consumption manifests itself as producing too much trash and producing all encompassing corporations. So is the film not so much about over-consumption as it is about producing too much trash? Or is really about the danger of companies that grow to large? These issues are not the same and they are only loosely connected to over consumption. On the spaceship, the movie seems to be saying that over consumption has lead people to be fat, lazy blobs, but I don’t see how that makes sense. Just because I consume things doesn’t make me lazy. If the film wants to take on human laziness that’s alright, but to connect it to over consumption is a stretch.

It’s the same with communication technologies, how are these part of the over consumption problem? Are cell phones, internet chatting and texting really leading us down a path where human interaction will be out the door? I tend to feel its opposite, humans interact with each other more today than ever before. Most people use these as tools, but I don't think the human spirit would ever accept the future that is presented. Isn’t the film really warning against becoming absorbed in a virtual world and not enjoying others around you? Isn’t that really an argument about true human interaction and not consumerism? One of my favorite examples is the food in a cup joke; point being that humans have become so lazy and consumer driven that we enjoy our meals in shake-style. Does anyone think that’s where our society is headed? I could never conceive of a future where humans accept that, we idolize food too much. Heck, we have entire TV channels devoted to it. It just rings not true.

I honestly believe the film has things it wants to say, and I want to give the film the benefit of the doubt, but reading an interview with the director himself has kind of cemented my view. Stanton says this,

“To be honest, I reverse-engineered the whole idea. My first idea was “the last robot on earth.” I knew I wanted him to be a trash robot because that would allow him to be able to go through the evidence of humanity and be able to convey that without having to use dialogue. Trash is very visual. I was raised in the 70s where I was told not to litter every ten minutes on TV. So I went backwards from that and I had to go “Okay, I still can’t talk about it. I still have to just get it in the first fifteen minutes going through this movie, so how would you explain so much stuff?” And I decided, “Well, we just bought too much.” So I reverse-engineered it. It wasn’t that I had an agenda of any sort.”

It’s a little telling of the movie and is a bit disheartening that the topic of over consumption and the destruction of earth from trash was born out of the desire to have a sole robot rummage through garbage. Wall *E isn’t truly aware of message, because its more interested in making a robot that rumaged through the remnants of humanity. Stanton then goes on to say, “I do think it’s a cautionary tale about taking anything too far. I wasn’t necessarily pushing “anti-consumerism,” I was just pushing against something that has gone to an extreme.” I think this is a bit disingenuous of him, how is it not anti-consumerism if your main cause (and the sole on-screen cause) of the apocalypse is (in his own words) buying too much stuff and all from one all encompassing company that controls and advertises to every aspect of our lives?

I know that my review is in the minority, but I feel strongly about it. As I stated in the beginning, it’s definitely worth a view, as Stanton and Pixar give us a beautifully conceived piece of art. It’s a marvel of art direction and sound as well. However, the story feels sloppy and at odds with the message in several parts. I ask everyone to look past the cute two robots (and boy they are cute, a point beaten to death), and ask of the film, what does it say about humanity? Is the message something that rings true? I think the answer to that question is no.



1 comments:

Scott Mendelson said...

I liked Wall-E more than you did but not as much as the critical establishment in general. Your indictment of Stanton as having stumbled upon his message as a means to tell his visual story is worth exploring, but I don't think that necessarily dilutes the message. If the moral of the story rings true, then it shouldn't matter how the filmmaker found his/her way to that point.

The scenario presented is more than a little plausible, but yes the fact that this over consumption affects only Americans is worth exploring (China, Russia, and India are soon going to be as big of a problem as we are). For a cruder, but far more pessimistic version of this scenario, rent 'Idiocracy'. It's a sloppy, disjointed film that reeks of studio tinkering, but the ideas are terrifying and potent to the point that it blunts the intended wacky comedy hijinks. Andrew Stanton is optimistic enough to think we can set things right. Mike Judge has no hope for us at all.

Scott Mendelson

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