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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Everyone always talks about how Pixar makes great family films, but it’s time to stop calling their productions “family films” and just start calling them “films.” The company – which has released nine films and scored an unprecedented nine home runs – has evolved impressively from their earliest days. The simple sweetness of 1995’s Toy Story has given way to even more bold, ambitious, and thematically daring pictures such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and the current Wall-E. People of all ages can enjoy them, but they aren’t just for the prototypical family audience anymore.

The story is set hundreds of years in the future. Earth has become so covered with garbage that the entire human population has been evacuated. Everyone now lives on a gigantic spaceship that’s part intergalactic cruiser and part shopping mall. The company responsible for the excess garbage, Buy-N-Large, has created a space society where everyone is constantly catered to and entertained, thus creating a culture of overweight people who don’t actually do anything. That leaves just one being on the planet: Wall-E, a small robot who collects all that trash, compacts it into blocks, and stacks it into skyscrapers. His job is to clean it all up so that one day the people may return. We can see that there were once others like Wall-E, but they have broken down, leaving the little rust bucket as the last robot standing. After a long day collecting junk, he retires to his station, where he pops in an old videocassette of Hello, Dolly for amusement.

Wall-E’s existence changes when a sleek, feminine probe robot arrives on Earth in search of vegetation. Her name is Eve, and it’s love at first sight. When Eve goes into lockdown mode and is picked up by her mothership, Wall-E hitches a ride because he can’t bear to see her go. He ends up on the same cruiser with the remaining members of humanity, who are waited on hand and foot by service bots. The ship’s captain (Jeff Garlin) is eager to use Eve’s findings to lead the human race back to Earth, but there is a robot revolt led by the ship’s autopilot, and Wall-E must step in to help get people back where they belong.

The first thing you notice about Wall-E is the animation. Computer animation was mind-blowing in Toy Story, where the Pixar team was able to realistically re-create the look and texture of plastic toys. What you get here is that same feeling times one hundred. In intricate detail, the animators have created an authentic-looking, desolate future, where large piles of garbage dot the landscape as far as the eye can see. There’s also a lot of detail in Wall-E himself, right down to the rust that coats him. These images contrast nicely to the faux utopia in space, where everything is clean, sparkly, and utterly soulless. Every time I see a new Pixar movie, I think the animation can’t get any more complex and intricate, but it always does.

Where Wall-E really impresses is in the story. Kids will certainly respond to the title character’s journey through space in search of companionship, but adults will find surprisingly deep meaning in a story that deals with loneliness and isolation, hope and disappointment, environmental hazards, and sweet robot love. Director/co-writer Andrew Stanton, who was also the creative force behind Finding Nemo, doesn’t shy away from showing the isolation little Wall-E feels. (I’m sure I won’t be the first to point out that parts of the movie play like an animated version of I Am Legend.) The scenes in space also work on a level of social commentary. Coddled to by a corporation that only seeks to preserve profits, mankind willingly surrenders control. A true nation of consumers, the humans in this story are all too willing to sit on comfy chairs that shuttle them back and forth, eat junk food, and watch video screens. Only when a drastic change is introduced are they awakened to the possibility that something better actually exists.

And, of course, as in any Pixar movie, there is a lot of clever humor. I laughed throughout, but some of the biggest laughs are found in the dialogue-free opening 20 minutes, where Wall-E reacts curiously to some of the items he finds in the trash (a bra, a spork, etc.). What a wonderfully memorable character he is. With eyes like E.T. and a body like Short Circuit’s Johnny 5, Wall-E is unexpectedly expressive. He never speaks – only electronic beeps and boops – but manages to convey a wide range of emotions. He’s a character that I think will stand the test of time.

I think Wall-E is a masterpiece. The folks at Pixar never rest on their laurels. They continue to push the limits of both computer animation and the storytelling possibilities that accompany it. The company has never let me down yet, but this movie represents Pixar at its absolute finest and most ambitious.

( out of four)

Note: Playing before Wall-E is a five-minute Pixar short entitled Presto, about a magician and his rabbit. This, too, represents Pixar working at the peak of its abilities. The short is just as much fun as the feature film.

Wall-E is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out Wall-E

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