Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Time for lunch... in a cup!"

Film: "Wall-E"

Release Date:
27 June 2008

Director: Andrew Stanton

Pixar's ninth film, "Wall-E" came to theaters summer of 2008. The last of the ideas from the famed lunch back in 1994 that a number of Pixar gurus had to come up with idea for films after "Toy Story," it was originally taken up and conceived by Andrew Stanton and Pete Doctor. Doctor left it in favor of directing "Monster's Inc." and left Stanton to hash it out by himself. Stanton left it alone for a while to work on "Finding Nemo," but then came back to it in 2002 after work on "Nemo" finished.

It went through a number of re-writes and story ideas before finally ending up with what became the finished film. The biggest idea was for EVE to be sent by aliens called Gels. The Gels were off-shoots of human and basically all that was left of humanity after 700 years in space. Slowly Stanton changed their appearance to be more human like till he arrived at the large, baby-like human beings that are in the final film. "Wall-E" also ended up being one of the most ambitious Pixar films to date with 125,000 story boards and complex space scenes. It featured sound effects including the voice of it;s title character from legendary sound artist Ben Burtt, who may be best known for being the "voice" of R2-D2 in "Star Wars" as well as creating the humm sound of the light sabers and the heavy breathing of Darth Vader.

It went on to win a number of awards, most notably the Academy Award for Best Animated Film as well as making Time Magazines' list for "Best Movies of the Decade." While not the highest grossing Pixar film, it made more then the previous year's Pixar film 'Ratatouille" and ended up with over $200 million at the Box Office in the US. Considering it was sandwiched between high grossing film "Iron Man," "Indiana Jones 4" and "The Dark Knight" and with it's very heavy social commentary, it did very well.

My Reaction:
Ok, so there is no getting past it, "Wall-E" is very politically charged and certainly the biggest social commentary for a Pixar film. Rather then sweep it under the rug, it's best to get into it a little bit (which is really all I'm doing as you could easily write whole papers, and many have, on the themes and topics of this film).

I don't think there is much mistake, 'Wall-E" is many things to many people and maybe the first Pixar film that is so widely "you either love it or hate it, there is no middle ground." "Wall-E" is to capitalism what George Orwell's novel "1984" was to socialism/ communism. While "1984" illustrated the possible negative side effects of a socialist government, "Wall-E" shows us what capitalism can do left unchecked. The biggest and most profound example of this is how the fictional mega corporation Buy N Large essentially ends up becoming not just the government for the United States, but the whole world.

Under the leadership of Buy N Large, without anyone to stand in their way and in fact with most of, if not all the World population buying in to the Buy N Large way of life, the Earth becomes so polluted that humanity can't live on Earth anymore and our beautiful planet becomes nothing more then a giant landfill. In every way, this large part of the film challenges the audiences' way of life and raises the question about a number or somewhat sensitive, yet important topics in how we live our lives as a society. The first image I thought of after watching this this most recent time is the current British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite complaints about how the Obama Administration is or is not dealing with the crisis, the film left me wondering how different it would be if BP or another like-minded company WAS the government. It scares me to think about such a fate and how close we seem to be getting to one like the film depicts. I've heard many in conservative side of the debate express fears of a government out of control, but for me personally, I think they forget that there is always another side to every coin, and a mega corporation out of control can be just as bad and frightening. "Wall-E" does a good job of exploring this side of the debate. Either form of "government" can be bad if left unchecked.

Beyond the comments on capitalism and environmental issues lies questions about man's relationship to technology. While the film makes were not trying to show it to be bad, they were raising questions about how much we rely on it in our day-to-day lives. In Wall-E's world, human beings can't seem to do anything for themselves and need robots for everything. The film raises many question about this relationship and what it does to our humanity. There have also been Christian and mythological themes associated with the film.

Slightly less heavy themes or nods found would the Pixar teams love of musicals and classic tv shows and movies, with the most obvious being "Hello Dolly! I think my mind gets worked every time I see this film and it really is fascinating to me how much it seems to get discussion going amongst people with different World-views. I think out side of all of that, I find I get bored at times with "Wall-E." While I wasn't against the heavy themes or the pantomime found in much of the film, it just didn't do it for me like Pixar normally does. In fact I'd dare say Pixar the last few years has really been dragging. But it seems so silly in many ways as their version of "dragging" is most other studio's mega success. But I really loved the main characters of Wall-E and EVE and hope they get used for possible short subject cartoons later. I also thought it odd the live action scenes found in the film. Some may have liked them or seen they as "visionary," I didn't though.

My Wife's Reaction: She thought the cockroach was possibly the world first and only "cute" cockroach on the planet and found it fitting that it took Pixar to pull that off.

My Final Grade: (B-) Yes, I very much enjoy the philosophical debates the film brings up and the characters of Wall-E and EVE are some of the best Pixar has given us, but for whatever reason, it just didn't do it for me the way "A Bug's Life," "Toy Story 2" or "Cars" did. But still a fine film.

All images copyright Disney/ Pixar. All rights reserved.


  1. There's a mistake in your review, this is technically film's 9th review, Up being the tenth. I take you are counting Pixar's eight ORIGINAL films and leaving out Toy Story 2, a sequel.

    As for Wall-E, I have to be honest with you. I personally believe that Stanton never intended to be political or something like that. The reason I say this is because never, even when I saw it the first time, was I engaged in any political battles about the film's messages. I always find myself too enthralled by the actual story to even care if its telling me something.

    Some might say the film isn't being subtle, but to me it is. Never does it stop the film to say 'CAPITALISM IS BAD!' or "PROTECT THE PLANET!". In fact, Captain Planet was far more outrageous and preachy than Wall-E.

    I think the reason the movie caused so much commotion is because the film lets the audience come up with their own conclusions, and often the conclusions aren't pretty.

    As for me, I admit at first I didn't care much for it. But it grew on me in a BIG way.I now can't get enough of it.

  2. Thanks for the heads up about the mistake. I fixed it. I finished writing this at 3am (had a hard time sleeping) and there could be some mistakes, but I hope I got most if not all.

    I tend to agree that Stanton didn't mean to turn this film into what many seem to see it as today. But I'll share my thoughts on something with you. I'm an English major and after reading so many short stories, plays, poems and novels, I don't think most of the authors who write anything means for their work to mean what so many reading it claim they do. I think just like with art, people see things in it from their perspectives. Not that that is a bad thing.

    Stanton himself in a few interviews I have read down plays how politically charged he feels the film should be, but at the same time he hasn't ever denied it that I've seen. The film does have a lot of themes in it, not just about capitalism, environmental issues or technology either. I think much of the same thing would apply to another 2008 film, "The Dark Knight," which I have heard a few people talk about the political messages in that film.

    I personally believe many people will see what they want to see in just about anything. But, good movies will start conversations up and even if people see things in something that are not there, just the fact it got them to talk and think about something may be in part the point, and a good thing.

    I do know that many in the conservative world saw this film as an attack on their views. Glenn Beck on Fox News attacked it, I remember reading about that. I was dating this girl from an ultra conservative family when it came out on DVD and they didn't see it yet but loved Pixar films. So I showed it to them and not even half way through, her dad walked out and I'll never forget how later he complained to me how liberal Hollywood is and that he didn't like the film.

    For me personally, while I did see something the first time, I didn't see it to the extent others seemed to. It was only after talking to others that it started to change my own perception of the film. But, that is not why I didn't like it as much, because I did enjoy the message personally and buy into most if not all of them.

    But, getting past all of that, I would love to see Wall-E again in shorts, kind of like Mater from "Cars" has been in his own shorts. Wall-E is a fun character and I think the greatest lesson may be the one Stanton did intend on us seeing, that love conquers all and that it can come from anywhere. When he started pitching it to the viewing audience originally, he called it a love story. I tend to agree, it is.

  3. Yeah, I could definitely see how people would be offended by it. It talks an awful truth (whether the director acknowledges it or not) that no one is ready to face, no matter the political preferences or religious beliefs.

    One thing to note is that the movie came out in a crucial year: 2008. I was the presidential year, Obama and McCain were both getting a lot of coverage due to their political views. A year before we were bombarded by Al Gore's Awful Truth. Michael Moore is making a bundle in criticizing the American Government, and the economy was in a very, very, VERY poor condition. So Wall-E hit people very hard because its about the things that were in their minds: the economy, politics and the environment.

    I think that the years will be kind to Wall-E. I know for a fact that many classic films stirred people up with their radical views back in the day, to the point where people would blacklist its creators, and are now considered the best ever made.

    It's going to go from "that liberal movie" to "that very inspirational picture".

  4. Good points still about it being in an election year. It seems to me that from that elections and forward thus far, anything and everything gets dragged into politics. It's just the fact of the time period we live in. It seems Pixar film are no exception! In a way it is sad, I mean leave "Wall-E" alone, dang it! But on another hand, it is what it is.

    I think one of the things I find as I look at the impact any film has is in part when it came out. Film history or animation history is still part of human history. As I watch these films, it's fun to see how much the time period they were made in effected the film, and how much the film effected the time period.

    Certainly as time goes on and new historical events unfold, our view of films will change as well. I think time will be good to "Wall-E' as well, but we will just have to wait and see.