Tuesday, July 01, 2008

WALL-E




The Pixar movies are my one respite from awful cinema and a reassurance that all the talented people haven't been sopped up by the video game industry. When going to see a Pixar film, I know I'll see a movie that's had a lot of work put into it to make it look good, be uplifting, and be entertaining. Despite what the naysayers are spouting, WALL-E fits the bill.

I know from previous interviews and such that the folks at Pixar don't like their work to be pigeon-holed and they like doing things differently than they had done in their previous efforts. What they sought to make here was something they hadn't done before, a love story, of sorts. The art direction as usual is amazing while the story...

There's something very, for lack of a better description, Japanese about the whole thing. A dystopian future with complicated mechanical robots which are probably sentient, all wrapped up in a product that looks amazing? Sounds like half the anime ever produced. I remember one anime in particular that mentioned that they had a mechanical engineering type on-site who would eyeball sketches and such and let the artist know whether or not the pieces fit together properly. You can easily picture Pixar going through such lengths while watching WALL-E, while other western animators would never go through the effort. A great example is that other robot themed movie which could have just as easily been about monkeys. It's against this background that I'm judging the film and I bring it up mearly to point out that I tend to be forgiving of work of this sort.

Part of the back story for the film is a planet brought to ruin by corporate malfeasance. Although some conservative writers have taken issue with this, it's worth mentioning that mega corporations aren't exactly a mirror image of the one portrayed in WALL-E. Although it may be seen as rather hypocritical for a movie that's going to generate a ton corporate marketing junk in the way of toys and other consumables to be damming the very same, what's not often brought up is that corporate types usually force that kind of thing onto film makers. The later Batman movies from the first iteration were made strictly with idea of selling stuff based on what appeared in the movie. I may be reading too much into it, but the Pixar folks seem to be rebelling against this mindset by not only making a movie that decries this, but also by designing lead characters that are either not very marketable (a worn, grimy robot) or near impossible to manufacture as a simulation (a floating oval robot with hovering limbs). It’s also worth mentioning that the lead characters have a vocabulary of maybe a half dozen words, further restricting their potential as corporate marketing pawns.

Adding into this mix is a Disney-fied version of some rather complex sci-fi concepts. If I were more well read on sci-fi fiction I might be able to better relate where some of ideas are pulled from (though the never ending party in Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe and Everything sprang to mind at one point). The movie hovers just within reach of kids by leaving open some questions sure to spring into the mind of adults (such as "where do the babies come from?" or "how did the planet get that way?"). It's good that they're deliberately not answered as it adds a complex depth to the movie for adults, while not turning into a Phillip K. Dick cartoon for the kids.

As well, it wouldn't be a Pixar movie without some light push for a higher personal calling. The star of the movie is a materially poor character who has seen better days. However, rather than the typical story where the downtrodden get their comeuppance on their oppressors (of which there are none in the film anyway), the robot shows a great deal of self sacrifice, and indeed, in the end he is willing to sacrifice everything in order to give humanity a second chance that it may not deserve. It's hard not to find it...moving. Art of the highest order, and yet another benchmark by which future movies should be judged.

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