WALL-E, the new movie from the animation wizards at Pixar, is the first art film for kids I have ever seen. The story of a lonely robot who inadvertently gives humankind a second chance is aimed at kids but doesn’t look like any other kid’s movie you’ve seen. If you’re expecting the same-old from Pixar—maybe Finding Nemo 2: That Darned Fish or Toy Story Three: This Time It’s Personal—think again. WALL-E is an ambitious and beautiful stand alone film. It’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for children.
Set in the year 2700, Earth is now a dystopian world rendered uninhabitable by wasteful and excessive humans who exited the planet centuries ago. For seven-hundred years WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) has lived alone (save for a friendly cockroach named Hal) compacting the heaps of trash and collecting trinkets left behind when the exodus from Earth happened.
The monotony of his lonely life is interrupted by a search robot named EVE who thinks one of WALL-E’s discoveries is the key to repopulating the planet. When she heads back to the mother ship to pass along the news WALL-E tags along, unwilling to lose the only friend he’s ever had.
WALL-E is one of the most unique children’s films I have ever seen. Despite its relatively simple story, it’s risky filmmaking that has more to do with the great science fiction films of the 1970s than family friendly fare like Nemo. The world director Andrew Stanton has created here is a dark one, where Earth is a wasteland (with tones of The Andromeda Strain and The Omega Man) and overly pampered humankind has reverted back to an almost child-like state.
Add to that the fact that there is no dialogue at all for the first 30 minutes and only sporadic chit chat after that, and you are left with a film that can only be described as a brave and adventurous outing in the formulaic world of kid’s entertainment.
This is a kid’s film that doesn’t pander to kids; that assumes they can use their imaginations to fill in the blanks left by the lack of talk. Most kid’s flicks entertain the eye but don’t give their minds much of a workout. WALL-E does both. It’s the evolution of children’s films; after this the wisecracking animals and toilet jokes of Madagascar and the like will look like relics, as current as Steamboat Willie.
A few famous names pop up on the cast list—Jeff Garland, Sigourney Weaver—but Stanton doesn’t rely on them to sell the movie. Nor does he use current pop culture references to earn cheap laughs à la Shrek. Instead he relies on the most old fashioned of devices—good storytelling—to tell his futuristic story.
Coupled with the good story is spectacular animation from the computer nerds at Pixar whose great achievement here is to give WALL-E and EVE, two inanimate objects, complex emotions while staying true to the characters without stooping to cheap manipulation.
Director Stanton’s great achievement is to fill every frame with a sense of wonder and provide the viewer with one of the most unique and satisfying movie experiences of the summer.
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