Eugene Weekly : Movies : 7.3.08


Pigs in Space
In the future, garbage gets the better of us
by Jason Blair

WALL-E: Written and directed by Andrew Stanton. Music, Thomas Newman. Featuring the voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger and Sigourney Weaver. Walt Disney Pictures, 2008. G. 103 minutes.

Into the theater I strode nonchalantly, unprepared for the enthusiasm with which the crowd awaited WALL-E. By now, we expect great things from Pixar, even if last year’s deliriously fun Ratatouille was preceded by a fun-guzzling jalopy, Cars. For the current film, I could muster nothing more than indifference. Perhaps the butchered, in-your-face phonics of WALL-E bespoke, to my eyes, a letdown; perhaps the flagrant resemblance of WALL-E to Number Five from Short Circuit distressed my finely-tuned nostalgia. At any rate, not more than a few moments into WALL-E, I could sense that the audience had better antennae than I did, at least for G-rated fare, as their enthusiasm turned out to be entirely well-founded. 

In WALL-E, Earth is a foul, deserted place. Well, almost deserted: The last resident of Earth, if you can call him that, is WALL-E, a sweet, hardworking mobile garbage compactor. By day, he packages mounds of garbage into blocks. By night, he retreats to a makeshift garage where, with Hello, Dolly! running in the background, he sorts the various trinkets he’s collected throughout the day. WALL-E communicates his blue-collar persona so expertly that, when he finds a diamond ring still in its case, he tosses the ring and cherishes the case. All WALL-E is missing is a little female companionship, something that descends one day in the sleek, egglike Eve. Eve is a small, pure-white collector robot, as silly and graceful as a penguin. While it’s not initially clear what she’s after, she’s at least amused by WALL-E’s affection, which he demonstrates, puppy-like, by running into everything as she scans each object she encounters. She’s short-tempered. He’s a pushover. It’s a match made in heaven.

Heaven, as it turns out, is the Axiom, a spaceship now encasing the remainder of the human race. Once Eve discovers what she’s after, she and WALL-E are whisked up to the Axiom, where the film, for a brief period, takes a terrific turn: Just when you think WALL-E is a tale of mismatched robot love, it introduces elements of The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the state of the human race is revealed, the raucous laughter in the theater grew nervous and hesitant; I can’t remember that much tension in a Pixar film since Sid tortured Buzz and Woody in Toy Story. Without revealing too much, let’s jut say that after 700 years in space, the human race has managed to forget what makes us human. Like physical activity, for example. 

WALL-E feels a little chaotic at times, particularly once the droid pair reaches the Axiom, where they’re subjected to one chase sequence after another. The film is all flashing lights and whirring sirens for a while, and, well, the humanity goes out of it. But WALL-E rebounds confidently as it confronts the possibility of earthlings essentially repopulating a garbage dump. It’s going to be a nasty job, and these are hardly the founding fathers, but you have to admire our future relatives for trying. If slightly uneven, WALL-E joins Ratatouille and Finding Nemo as among the best films Pixar has created. It’s expertly written, beautifully designed and boldly provocative.