a theatre, film & pop culture review
Not since Short Circuit have we encountered such an adorably harmless robot. Wall•E is a simple ‘bot who putters out his days humming Hello, Dolly! tunes and discovering treasure in others’ trash (dinglehopper, anyone?). It isn’t until a fem ‘bot lands on the devastated Earth that we realize our hero’s true plight: the little guy just wants some love. And, of course, to save Earth along the way — or does he really want that after all?
If the basic plot of finding love and/or a sense of belonging seems all too familiar to us (everything from The Little Mermaid to E.T. to Lilo and Stitch come to mind), what does seem different is the overt politics that spring up mid-‘toon that are only resolved when the love quandary of our faithful ‘bot is happily settled. Pixar isn’t dealing with complex emotions and character relationships as it has in the past; in Wall•E, writer and director Andrew Stanton has discarded those notable trademarks for a strangely simplistic statement concerning the environment and how our ignorance and laziness will most assuredly lead to the absolute destruction of the planet. That is, of course, until we remember that what the world needs now, is love, sweet love, and then we realize that all will be righted soon enough.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on what many would defend as just a “kids movie,” and what others would call an amazing technological feat (as always, the details are delightful and the artistry in animation stunning). The problem with that argument is that Pixar’s films are always awe-inspiring to look at, and the company doesn’t create just “kids movies,” it never has. Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles all subtly produce rich characters and situations and the emotions always run high and deep in those films. Wall•E never reaches those heights because no matter how many times our protagonist (and he is A-dorable) induces “awwws” from me and the rest of the audience, he never accomplishes anything more. The adorable android dutifully collects garbage, carefully crunching the junk into easily disposable cubes, but he doesn’t do it because he cares about having a clean Earth. Just like the blobby humans the film depicts as unthinkingly wittling away their days as a planet goes to ruin, Wall•E simply zooms along, carelessly cleaning out of routine — until a girl comes around, and then he finally cares about saving the Earth, but only because she does, and only because she has been given the “directive” to.
Where Wall•E fails in creating complex characters and subtle plot, however, it makes up for in clever sequences involving the ‘bot’s daily musings (a favorite: his grudgingly awakening and, groggy, unable to put on his “shoes”) and his dedicated fawning over the laser-happy female ‘bot, Eva. The flick also boasts a typically hilarious Pixar short involving a short-tempered magician and his hungry and rather industrious rabbit. In the end, I was glad to have met Wall•E; I only wish I had gotten to know him better.