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Film Review: WALL-E

WALL-E (2008; Directed by Andrew Stanton)

Pixar’s spectacularly crafted fable of the future may be the cutest dystopian cautionary tale ever created. A visual marvel, a model narrative mixing pathos, commentary, and humour with a bare minimum of actual dialogue, and lovingly-developed characters make WALL-E virtually unassailable on any technical level. It’s totally implausible to claim that this isn’t, properly speaking, a very good film.

Did you bring protection?

But then Pixar features, at their best, are always more than just well-made films-for-all-ages: they’re explorations of human nature and society through the glossy filter of anthropomorphism. Perhaps Brad Bird’s very successful films for the stable have pushed the output into more critically-analyzable directions, and WALL-E has far more in common with the prodding of the limits of democracy that The Incredibles and Ratatouille engaged in than with the entertaining but simpler Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc. And yet WALL-E, for all its myriad delights, falls short of the boundless generosity of spirit that marked Bird’s triumphs.

After the heady mix of endearing silent-film romance and elegiac yearning in its first act, WALL-E catapults its titular plucky robot Chaplin into the depths of both space and pedantic liberal moralizing. WALL-E’s adventures on board the Axiom are certainly entertaining and beautifully paced, but it’s a curious world that director Andrew Stanton and his team give us there. The surviving humans are obese sedentary beings, pinned to screens dependent on patronizing corporate technology, and enslaved by thoughtless consumption, oblivious of the vagaries of real life just beyond them. WALL-E, EVE, and the other robots that serve them (my favourite is M-O, a fastidious cleaning bot who becomes an unlikely ally) are more human than the humans, or at least possessing more personality.

Wall-E is indeed constructed as the last steward of the faded human spark, a fussy, romantic archivist of mankind’s forgotten detritus. He works away his days building soaring towers out of junk, loves to watch snatches of Hello Dolly! in his free time, and locates the hidden poetry in sporks and cigarette lighters. He yearns to love, and falls for the sleek, businesslike EVE all to easily. WALL-E provides us with a robot who’s more recognizably a person than the flabby chair-bound hippos we encounter in the film and who triggers the latent humanity buried inside them without even meaning to. It’s a curious message, as beautifully-executed as it is.

So, ultimately, for all its gentle visual wit and endearing characters, WALL-E has more in common with leftist anti-corporate dystopian sci-fi critiques like The Matrix or Mike Judge’s Idiocracy than with other efforts from the Pixar studio. This is not a criticism exactly; an irresistible cartoon with a specific intellectual perspective on environmentalism and the culture of corporate consumption is hardly a lamentable thing. But its liberal commentary can slip into heavy-handedness here and there, betraying its mild, pleasing spirit at times. But that’s a minor mental quibble in the face of the overwhelming flood of delight that WALL-E unleashes, in the end.

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Categories: Film, Reviews

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