Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight and Jeff Garlin with Fred Willard, Sigourney Weaver, Kathy Najimy and John Ratzenburger
A long time ago, Pixar's leading lights got together over lunch and discussed what they were going to do to follow up their amazingly successful Toy Story. In the course of a single meeting, they thrashed out the basic plots of stories that we know today as A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. The last story to come out of that legendary meeting was Wall-E. When you consider its pedigree, you can see why I had rather high expectations for this movie. I'm glad to say the folks at Pixar didn't let me down.
Hundreds of years in the future, Earth is a tip. Litter and rubbish blows everywhere and New York is not somewhere you'd want to live. In fact, the planet is such a mess that all the humans have moved to outer space. In amongst all the detritus, a lone robot struggles to do the tidying up. Wall-E spends every day compacting trash, but we can see that despite the skyscraper-sized piles of neatly sorted rubbish, it's a hopeless task. Then one day, everything changes: Wall-E discovers a plant growing in the ruins and a very large spaceship fails to discover him - instead, it lands right on top of him. Once the smoke has cleared, its passenger is revealed: another robot, called EVE. From this point on, it's your typical boy meets girl, girl meets plant, robot meets humans, robots lose plant, dystopian future kind of cybernetic romance movie. With John Ratzenburger, of course.
The film looks gorgeous. It's by far the best-looking of Pixar's movies so far. The end credits give a nod to Roger Deakins, the cinematographer who has worked on the Coen Brothers' movies for nearly twenty years. He was brought in to advise on how he would have shot the movie had they actually had to use something as old-fashioned as cameras and lenses. It's obvious that Andrew Stanton and his team listened closely to what Mr Deakins had to say, as there are scenes in this movie that had me believing they had been shot for real. The use of depth of field to blur out backgrounds, little touches like bits of dust falling through sunbeams; the blurring heat haze when Wall-E first emerges after EVE lands - for the first thirty or so minutes of the film there is no sense that you are watching anything artificial. Once the action moves to outer space and we meet the human beings in the story, that changes; the humans here are deliberately podgy and cartoon like, but there is a reason for this and it helps drive the plot along.
The sound is also a great part of the film's appeal. Sound designer Ben Burtt is a legend, having worked on some of the finest films in cinema history. He references quite a few of them as we work through the film. For example, EVE's gun sounds suspiciously like a blaster from Star Wars; Wall-E's motors were the sounds of biplanes originally recorded for Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was surprised to read that Burtt didn't include the famous Wilhelm Scream, though: he's quite a fan. But the sound design is not just a case of Burtt showing off his CV. His work at the beginning of the film in conveying what's going on without using dialogue should be used as a masterclass in exposition without words. Much of Wall-E's endearing character comes from the sounds he makes, and when the little guy made the macintosh boot-up chime as his solar panels reached full charge, a laughed out loud. There are many other references to Apple products in the film. (Steve Jobs has long been an ally and shareholder of Pixar). Several of the characters in the film use voices from the macintosh MacinTalk program. The mice that run about the waste disposal area in the spaceship appear to be single button mice from the early macintosh days. And E-V-E herself is obviously a distant cousin of the Apple iPod.
The animation is, of course, outstanding. Wall-E has an incredible emotive range considering he's basically a box with a pair of binoculars on top; Andrew Stanton apparently discovered the potential of binoculars while watching a baseball game. There are the obligatory scenes to show just how amazingly complicated the particle systems which computer animators use have got these days, particularly the shot of Saturn's rings and a sequence involving a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher. There are other neat little touches in the film, too: the autopilot is fitted with a glowing red eye like HAL's from 2001: A Space Odyssey (and just in case you didn't get the joke, the soundtrack also features Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra). There are many props and discarded toys in Wall-E's home which reference earlier Pixar movies, and a lovely touch is provided by the fact that the ship's voice is provided by Sigourney Weaver.
However, despite all the in-jokes and technical wizardry, Pixar's strength has always been their ability to come up with characters that you care about in a very deep and engaging way. I was disappointed by Ratatouille to some extent because I didn't get the same connection I've had while watching their other films. But with Wall-E they have come up with one of the most lovable characters yet. I really cared about what happened to both Wall-E and E-V-E and it's the first Pixar film I've seen since Toy Story 2 that had me within an inch of blubbing like a baby. I found it to be a wonderful, moving film and I already want to see it again.
Chris's rating: Five Stars