“WALL-E” World

2 07 2008

“WALL-E” 2008

Starring (Voices): Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Kathy Najimi, Sigourney Weaver

I can appreciate independent and experimental films that place more emphasis on the expressive art form of film than they do on entertainment value. But sometimes I just want to be entertained. Every once in a while, I am truly blown away by a film that demonstrates extraordinary artistry and still grabs my attention. “WALL-E” does both. It is graphically spectacular, instantly lovable, and socially relevant. This film will bring the importance of many pressing societal issues down to the level of children. And who better to understand the messes we are getting ourselves into than those who will one day be counted on to clean them up?

“WALL-E” is the best newly released film I have seen in years. The first half-hour or so contains little dialogue, unless you count the series of beeps, squeaks, and clicks used to convey communication by the title character. WALL-E is an enchanting robot who was designed to consolidate the considerable amount of waste left by humans before they fled the earth for what amounts to an all-inclusive cruise on a shiny rocket ship through outer space.

WALL-E appears to be the last functioning robot of his kind, with others motionless atop mountains of garbage that consume the planet 700 years in the future. But he diligently persists in stacking cubes of condensed trash into skyscraper-high piles. The story is about so many things, it’s difficult to sum up. The film is about WALL-E’s loneliness and loneliness in general. It is about the need for contact, companionship and affection. It is also a fable about the consequences of a consumer culture, and about the sedentary nature of humans, with reference to the crippling obesity crisis that our collective laziness has wrought. As we continue to “evolve” (though the more accurate word here might be “devolve”), we find ways to make every aspect of life seem easier. It becomes unnecessary to actively do anything, when we can essentially invent ways for other things (computers, cell phones, gadgets) to do everything for us. But “WALL-E” is also hopeful. It is about our thirst for knowledge, and about rebellion of the very best kind.

I am not often impressed with animation. I suppose I could still enjoy the Disney classics I loved as a child, like “The Little Mermaid,” and “Cinderella,” more out of nostalgic affection than anything else. But the watered-down storylines of many animated films these days are targeted to a much younger audience, and I often find myself bored watching them. “Shrek” was an exception. The innuendo that (hopefully) flew right over the heads of its younger viewers succeeded in keeping me laughing out loud. “WALL-E” won’t shock you with risqué allusions, but its themes made it surprisingly watchable and relevant to a person my age. It was cute and charming, like so many other animated flicks of its kind, but it had to have something more than that to keep me interested.

I saw “WALL-E” the day it opened in my hometown, with a good friend and her three-year-old daughter. I should mention here that little Riley piped up about halfway through the movie that she wanted to go home. I don’t know much about the attention span of children, but I think it is safe to say that “WALL-E” was a bit too subdued for my young guest. Her mother and I, on the other hand, were completely absorbed from start to finish. I watch movies all the time, and often enlist this particular friend to see them with me. It is not a small thing to say that we could not bear to comply with Riley’s wishes and desert our dear WALL-E midway through the film.

NOTE: “WALL-E” opens with an animated short, titled “Presto,” about a self-absorbed magician and his defiant white rabbit. I honestly haven’t laughed so hard in years.

♦♦♦½

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