"It was just the loneliest scenario I'd ever heard and
I just loved it. And I think that's why it sort of
stayed in the ether for so long."
Andrew Stanton, Director
It was the evening before the U.K. opening day and I think we may have come up against the WALL•E saturation point. The marketing has been ebulliently canny ("How can such a film work, a film whose first 30 minutes consists of two robots gadding about, no English words spoken? How daring is that?"). That's essentially the tack. We're supposed to go "But it's so cute with that post-R2D2 chirrup, ET with right angles... and it's the humans who brought you "fill in the Pixar Hit blank..." No one spends $180 million on a dare. Who are the marketing gurus kidding? All of us. They've made us anticipate something that they pretend simply cannot work. Can it? It's been hyped as something that we have to see for ourselves if it can pay off. Oh, it pays off in spades. This is Pixar, people. It's been open in the States for a full week and has already made a hair's breadth from its productions costs. Next week or so should take care of the prints and advertising outlay and the rest? It's another home run for Lassiter's Lads and Lasses.
And so Pixar, arguably the most successful mainstream Hollywood studio in operation today (that's in output ratio to profit terms) has snuggled in to Disney and found an over-accommodating home. It gives me some little satisfaction that every time Pixar score, it makes once owner George Lucas wince and Disney cheer. A better definition of ambivalence I do not know. Not that the 'take-a-chance' Hawaiian shirt-wearing outfit wasn't wanting for salivating suitors. I guess it's better the Devil Lassiter knows than an unknown suit from another corporation. In a stunted knee jerk reaction, I questioned Disney's appropriateness as Pixar's distribution and marketing arm. It felt like Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were happily making films for Coca Cola. But then if the 'product' could maximise its distribution by allaying itself with what may appear as an arch enemy, then everyone wins, don't they? Not if they see these movies as product, they don't. Pixar have kept on the right side of that line and long may they continue to dazzle us, Mouse House be damned.
What of the little fellow himself? The good news is that the movie is stunning in all manner of ways. Wall•E is charming, goofy and hopelessly romantic. He's also impossible in the sense that if anything alarms him, he is able to insert his 'head' and his 'legs' such as they are neatly into his 'stomach' which I think most would agree is a sleight of hand that works well enough as long as you don't start some fairly basic spatial computations. WALL•E is a waste compactor who has been working for 700 years cleaning up after mankind has shipped off world having exhausted the planet's resources. During that time, the little robot's developed a personality, collected an assortment of curios and become fixated on – of all movies – Hello, Dolly! 700 years of Barbara Streisand, a South Park über-nightmare. Here, in this late sixties overblown confection, is the hand holding romanticism of a kiss and fade to black, expressions of love open to mechanical muses and love struck waste compactors; very safe and a step up from the slightly off putting and unlikely lip locked, love pairing of Lightning McQueen and Sally Carerra in Pixar's Cars.
Earth, now just a capitalist long drop toilet, is straining under the weight of 'stuff' discarded. Its depiction is photo-realistically animated and beautifully lit and features the most subtle atmospheric soundtrack. It is computer animation as art. Yes, WALL•E is the focal point of this brown hued scrap heap but the environment is almost hyper-real. I could watch those vistas for a lot longer than the 30 minutes shown off as so unusual in the marketing. No, Pixar is nothing if not dense when it comes to detail and their story strengths go some way to ticking narrative boxes (and although they are resolutely ticked, the story never goes in anticipated directions). Enter the inciting incident as our screenplay gurus would have us label it. This is Eve, or a probe owing a great deal to Jonathan Ives' Apple designs, designed to seek out new life from old civilisations. She has a directive – bring back proof of life beginning again and enable the human race to start anew. Well, it so happens that WALL•E is ahead of the game having discovered a fragile plant struggling up towards the sun sometime before Eve landed.
Character has always been Pixar's ace card and Wall•E is a well established and rounded figure before we meet Eve but in one small look, we establish what makes Eve tick. She's all business while the boss is looking but give her an opening... I cracked a wide grin after watching her, thinking she is now unobserved after her ship takes off. She gives a little look and then bullets through the air, unshackled and free, flying for the love of flying, sensors be damned. It was a very "Nice!" moment in a film I thought would be full of such moments. Alas, for all of WALL•E's genuine pathos, innovation, surprise, joy and innocence, after 30 minutes, we all go for a ride and suddenly stuff happens but nothing with the wit and surprise of Eve's pre-flight look. There is nothing wrong with things happening (unless it's M. Night Shyamalan's happenings) but it seems like someone at Pixar had said "Now we have 637 story points to cover and time enough to cover 200." Instead of chopping out what may be seen as redundant points, Stanton and his talented crew decided to just go nuts and tap each of the 637 on the shoulder. I wasn't lost as much as dazzled but not in a good way. By the time I'd let plot point 234 settle, we were on 312 and the film rushed by in a welter of, granted, extraordinary imagery and narrative overload. Or maybe I'm just really slow... It's a possibility. Insert (Hans) Zimmer frame joke here.
I truly think that this movie was designed specifically NOT to be taken in at a single viewing. Now this might be cynical (not of me but of Pixar, wash my mouth out with hope) but have we reached that point of immersion with a movie experience? Do movies now demand not court a second and third viewing? Buy a DVD and you have a 2 hour experience. Thank you and goodnight. Buy GTA and you have days, weeks, months of sordid entertainment. Has Pixar broached that ephemeral movie experience and consolidated it? This is not necessarily a bad thing but it was quite shocking at the time. I settled in and was with Wall•E every tyre tread of the way until he hitched a ride on Eve's ship. I could have watched Wall•E doing his work until the cows came home. The machinations on the space ship Axiom (how we chortled) were less easily taken in. It is axiomatic that humankind has become the literal lumpen proletariat floating with screens in front of them forever until someone falls off their hover chair and reasserts what little is left of his humanity. Stanton's satire is broad but telling. He's using the most sophisticated movie making technology available to say we should all embrace our inner farmers! The irony simply drips, alien acid blood-like on to our collective cerebral cortex. I get it. Ow.
WALL•E is a wonderful film just too full of wonder. I wonder if I'll 'get it' second time around.