Cinema review: WALL•E

August 6 2008 at 9:36 pm (Cinema reviews)

There’s something otherworldly and superhuman about Pixar. Not only do they get better and better, but they do so with an effortless kind of shrug-it-off attitude that makes you think that they don’t even care. It all seems just a bit too easy for them. Despite the painstaking work that goes into them, their films arrive with little fanfare and consistently amaze audiences and critics alike making them feel almost like sleeper hits. You have to wonder whether John Lasseter and co have sold their souls to the devil.

Even more amazing is the way in which Pixar’s films are inextricably married to their studio. Nobody talks about the films of Universal or Warner Bros in the same way. The only other studios to get their films lumped together in common parlance are Disney and Dreamworks – that’s right, it’s all about animation. Pen and pixel movies seem to get segregated from the rest. They even have their own Oscar category.

The reason for this is, as Pixar stalwart Andrew Stanton himself has insisted, that animation is a technique rather than a genre. This is certainly true of Pixar’s latest – it may be a ‘cartoon’ but this covers many genres – part cutesy slapstick comedy, part bittersweet romance, part sci-fi epic.

A plot that covers all this in 90 minutes without feeling saturated has to be impressive. The humans have left the Earth because they buggered it up so badly that living on its surface became impossible. They left the clean up task to a team of robots of which only one remains: WALL•E. He goes about his business in a quiet, diligent fashion, turning piles of rubbish into neat cubes and, like the Wombles before him, making good use of the things that he finds. Then a spaceship arrives, and out pops space-age droid on a mission EVE, changing WALL•E’s lonely existence forever.

The barren, dirty Earth is beautiful to look at, and WALL•E’s life on it is a joy to watch. The animation is nothing short of perfect from the detail in WALL•E’s scuffed, mucky metalwork to the heartbreakingly sad landscapes of the empty planet. You could watch it for hours, so it’s a shame when 40 odd minutes in, we have to leave all that behind to experience what the humans have been up to, which is when the film lets itself down.

Although ambitious, WALL•E is not the silent film we were expecting. Yes, the two lead characters only say about three words throughout the course of the film (and they say those three words a lot) but of course it’s up to the chatterbox humans to break the silence. The lazy, diminutive, devolved race is certainly intended to make us look at ourselves with embarrassment and guilt, but you won’t really care. WALL•E is such a great hero that the film starts to lose its focus when we arrive at the humans’ space station. The two lead characters would have been more than enough to carry the film on their own, even if they aren’t human.

Plus, he’s sooooo cute that he makes ET look like the Terminator. The trouble is he’s too cute – watching him save the day is like having Rick Moranis cast as John McClane. Why couldn’t we have had a simple tale of a lonely, battered robot falling in love? The cautionary tale we get seems like a waste because we certainly don’t care what happens to the human race or the Earth. Plus it smacks of hypocrisy to have a film so fervently against the dangers of capitalism and have the hero advertise every electrical item under the sun.

If you can, ignore the action and focus on those lovely visuals. WALL•E is not perfect (it’s certainly not as good as Toy Story or The Incredibles), but with a hero this lovable and humble, perfection would seem wrong.

Rating: 4/5

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