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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Film Review: Wall-E Takes Film to New Heights

Review by Noah Mallin

Notice I said "film" in the headline and not animation. Oh Wall-E, like the rest of Pixar's films is the result of gloriously detailed brilliantly rendered computer animation all right. There are people who loathe animation, who think it's kid's stuff, or that it's not serious. Those people are idiots. OK, I've said it. I'll grant that the likes of Happy Feet, the umpteenth Shrek film, and Kung-Fu Panda have muddied the waters but a film like Wall-E is proof that no medium brings the possibilities inherent in motion pictures to life better than animation. To paraphrase a paraphrase - to hate Wall-E is to hate cinema. It has as much to say about who we are as any of last year's best picture nominees -- it has heart, humor and deep emotional resonance.

The touchstones are Chaplin and Buster Keaton, as you may have surmised from the too-cautious ad campaign. Now include Stanley Kubrick (not just of 2001 but also of Dr. Strangelove), Ridley Scott, a dollop of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, even a pinch of Terry Gilliam to get the real picture of this dark, satirical enchantment of a film.

The plot is simplicity itself -- Earth, in the future, is a wasteland of abandoned cities and garbage piled higher than the skyscrapers. Only two creatures survive -- cockroaches and a lone robot still toiling at it's trash compacting task. Wall-E (for it is he) also has a penchant for odd offbeat finds -- Rubik's cubes, a old videotape of Hello Dolly!, a lightbulb, that he uses to decorate the inside of his shelter. The image of him trundling through the abandoned cityscape strewn with detritus is suffused with melancholia. Watching him as he watches the fuzzy old film is heartbreaking.

His routine is suddenly broken by the arrival of a rocket ship which mysteriously deposits a new robot, a sleek shiny iPod in comparison to Wall-E's dented and pinged lawn mower looks. Her purpose is mysterious but, without using actual words (ok maybe one) we get a clear sense of gender and even of the two robots discovering each other and their unique personalities.

The second half of the film takes an unexpected turn not signaled by the advertising, and I'm loathe to spoil too much. I will say that the human race didn't all die (though there is significant ambiguity over whether they all lived.) Their ancestors' lives are a brutally on-target satire of American-style consumerism. The words "Stay the course" are uttered and despite director Andrew Stanton's denials there are poignant echoes of some very recent leadership failures.

Did I mention that the film is funny, and the robot love story is utterly charming, and that Fred Willard is in it? Wall-E is the best film of the year so far, which is damning with faint praise indeed. It's more than that though, one of the best of the last decade, a future classic, a triumph of cinematic art. Go see it, and leave the kids at home.

1 comment:

Mike Lorah said...

Just gotta say, I'm totally jazzed for this film.