Friday, June 27, 2008

Young robots in love [Wall-E]

Wall-E [G]
Grade: B
Director: Andrew Stanton

So, what, you want me to admit it?

Fine, I’ll get the admissions out of the way.

Wall-E is a brilliantly executed, technically impressive animated feature about the last pollution-cleaning robot on an abandoned, trash-heap future Earth. God bless the blistered fingers that ran around a keyboard to create its astounding level of animated detail. I don’t think any animated feature has ever looked or felt as tactile as this thing. Yet I also find it to be more of a technical accomplishment than an imaginative one.

There is a shot in Pixar’s last film, Ratatouille, that takes the Paris skyline and makes tangible its reputation as the City of Lights. In a single frame, it feels like you can reach out and hold the sparkle in your hand. It’s that illusion of spectacular realism that Pixar seems to be building for, an essential blurring of that made by computer and that made by billions of years of geological, chemical and biological interaction.

With this, we see the potential dawning of something new – animated realism. That’s hard to say about a movie centered on young robots in love. Particularly one that takes place in outer space and on a lonely, trash-choked Earth. But think of it like Kubrick’s 2001, which takes unreal elements and places them in a convincingly real space. Wall-E pulls a similar trick. Until it reaches space, the film largely avoids animation’s traditional distorted fantasy, preferring a living, breathing, dusty (alternative) reality.

From its three-dimensional look to the ominous skyscrapers of rubbish, Wall-E has found this feel. But in doing so, it launches the animated feature into an identity crisis over how far we have come from the pen and the flipbook. Is this the right direction, tossing aside the dancing-hippo fantasies? I don’t know. Count me as impressed, but hesitant.

Like many classic cartoons, Wall-E is virtually silent. Our two lovebird robots, Wall-E and Eva, only beep and whirr (and chirp out an electronic version of each other’s name), making goo-goo talk that only R2-D2 could understand. Director Andrew Stanton says that part of his inspiration was Buster Keaton silent comedies of the twenties. It certainly apes them as much as possible.

It’s difficult to talk about Wall-E’s teeming environmental conscience. After all, we all love trees. To the degree that it gives children a positive message of caring for the world, it’s admirable. However, the film’s premise of an uninhabitable planet indulges in designer apocalyptic pessimism. Afterward, every candy wrapper falling from your pocket will screw with your kid’s head. As environmental films go, Wall-E is a bit of a dour scold.

Along these lines, the film possesses a palpable misanthropic bent, reducing your friends and neighbors to fat and happy dipshits living on milkshakes and gravy in outer space. This would work as Bradbury-style sci-fi satire if there were any macabre wit about it. But it's short on wit. And that’s disappointing.

Wall-E is enamored of its own importance, both in terms of aesthetics and social responsibility. The former is truly groundbreaking. The reaction to the latter will be interesting to see. While I’m left with hesitations about what it is doing, I have to hail the effort. It certainly isn’t rubbish.

3 comments:

nick plowman said...

Seeing this on Tuesday....I hope I can feel for it the way Nikki Finke did, but I doubt it.

K. Bowen said...

Nick, most critics are very enthusiastic. I have some nitpicks. There's no reason to think it won't be enjoyable and impressive.

Craig Kennedy said...

I think ultimately I liked the movie a bit more than you, but I'm equally troubled by something:

"...it launches the animated feature into an identity crisis over how far we have come from the pen and the flipbook. Is this the right direction, tossing aside the dancing-hippo fantasies? I don’t know."

I was impressed at the realism of the first half of the film, yet also wondering why something animated was trying so hard to be real, complete with lens flares and realistic camera movements. Isn't part of the joy of animation the fact that it is completely unhinged from reality and can bring to life anything the mind can imagine?

What Pixar has done is amazing and impressive and eye popping, but I can't help wondering if it's a bit of a dead end in terms of the art form.

Hmmm...I might have to blog some on that idea if I don't write a proper review of the movie.