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Monday, June 30, 2008

Wall•E

Okay, I’ll just say it right away. Wall•E is Wowee! It really is, and I went in a complete skeptic. I mean, really, even though I know that Pixar Studios has never had anything but mega-hit movies in its entire history, from 1995’s Toy Story to last year’s Ratatouille, this seemed like a stretch for even them. A tale about a lovelorn trash compactor? Really? Seriously? I’ve had a trash compactor for more than fifteen years and not once have I ever got a glimmer of emotional yearning from it for more than an occasional internal cleansing with Scrubbing Bubbles and a little bleach. I have sensed that my kitchen toaster may have a certain unhealthy attachment for English muffins as it seems to hold on to each and every one with such a firm grip that I practically have to pry them loose if I’m to have a proper breakfast. After seeing Wall•E, I’m afraid I may now feel like I’m gorging on a beloved family member if I dare have a muffin in the kitchen. I suppose I’ll be resigned to eating breakfast on my front stoop for fear of insulting some appliance, whether the refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, or bathroom dehumidifier.

Technically, I suppose,
Wall•E isn’t just your average GE home trash compactor. After all, he, or it, well, more a ‘he’ for our purposes, is the last operating Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class robot still taking heaps of garbage and crushing and stacking it neatly into square blocks until he has created skyscraper-tall columns of junk. For 700 years, Wall•E has continued to work unabated on this task, which was originally programmed into him by a corporation intent on cleaning up the overly polluted Earth so that its inhabitants could return to the planet after a five year absence while they ‘vacationed’ away in gigantic ships in space. Obviously, something went wrong, and while the humans did not return as expected, the machines continued until they eventually broke down one by one, ultimately leaving just Wall•E and the cockroaches (naturally) as the residents of Earth.

That sounds very sad, doesn’t it? But it is actually an uplifting story on screen. Wall•E is quite a cute little compactor, with big, expressive lens eyes and a non-voice voice of squawks and occasional purrs and syllables that trill up and down like a child attempting the scales. His sideline of saving those items uniquely human during his trash compacting duties is endearing as he daily stashes certain small bits and pieces away for his collection ~ a spork, a cigarette lighter, a dog doll’s head. His biggest obsession, though, seems to be a bit of VHS film he’s found from the movie Hello Dolly featuring a very young Michael Crawford singing and dancing, something he not only listens to incessantly but tries emulating in his off hours. Hey, even a robot can’t work 24/7, at least not a solar-powered one.

The charming “voice” that makes
Wall•E so captivating belongs to Ben Burtt, not exactly a household name, eh? Burtt is not an actor by trade but was credited as the ‘sound designer’ on this picture and has won two Academy Awards (for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and ET) and been nominated for eighteen others for his sound editing work. You probably won’t recognize Wall•E’s love interest either. This is only Elissa Knight’s second feature, her first also an animated Pixar movie, Cars. Naturally, if you are a fan of Pixar like I am, you’ll be looking for former “Cheers” regular John Ratzenberger, who has the sole distinction of having played a character in every single Pixar movie since the first Toy Story (and he’s already working on Toy Story 3). Also joining Ratzenberger this time out is Kathy Najimy (‘Peggy’ of tv’s “King of the Hill”) as the vaguely confused Mary, one of the thousands of passengers aboard the Axiom, whose serene existence is rocked by the arrival of a certain uninvited trash compacter from Earth. Jeff Garlin (of cable favorite “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) plays the Captain of the ship, a doughy director who has spent so much time snoozing his life away in this floating Shangri-La that he can barely read yet alone lead until he has no choice, and rounding out the cast is outer space veteran Sigourney Weaver (Baby Mama) as the Axiom’s own computer, with more to say than anyone else in the cast.

I’ve always been incredibly impressed with the animation of Pixar’s movies, by far the best in the business. Each has taken a step further with advances in technology to create images far more realistic looking or all the more fantastic and beyond imagination than the last. Wall•E is Pixar’s best work yet. With panoramic images of a desolate and decimated New York, an awe inspiring trip through uncharted galaxies, and some of the most detailed features conceivable to ‘humanize’ the non-human cast of robots that populate portions of the film, giving each an individual and distinguishable identity, there isn’t a frame of film without something to marvel over.

That said,
Wall•E charms as much from its characters as from its beautiful look. Wall•E himself has a tender innocence about him that makes you fall for him almost instantly. Whether you are a guy or a gal, you’ve got to feel for the little guy who wears his (non-existent) heart on his (non-existent) sleeve when he meets a sleek search robot sent from one of the Earth’s ships full of the first refugees’ ancestors, who are still living in space. As part of a regularly scheduled protocol over the centuries, the Axiom has sent droids back to Earth to see if the planet has yet become habitable again for human life. This time around, one of the robots, an Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, or EVE, comes in contact with Wall•E, and when ‘she’ does, suddenly Wall•E’s prime directive is out the window and he has an entirely new self-directive: love.

The adventure in
Wall•E is as great for adults as for kids, though one additional nice thing about this film is that it is not the type of movie where there are two tiers of entertainment going on ~ the stuff for kids and then a whole other level of double entendre raunch to amuse the adults along for the ride. Sometimes that can be fun, I know. It’s very Shrek, but there are times when you just want to be able to enjoy a movie with your kids and not have to sit there and worry about whether they are picking up on something you aren’t sure they are ready for and definitely something you don’t want to have to explain on the ride home. Well, be relieved! Wall•E is way entertaining enough for adults and children both. It’s not overly gooey with morals and messages, but that isn’t to say it lacks a strong environmental theme that thoughtful parents may want to instill in their children. It’s also not choking with sentimental hooey, though it does have some truly touching moments that will have you later scratching your head and wondering how these wily filmmakers got you to care so much for a pile of machinery, but, then you’ll resign yourself to the happy conclusion that you’re glad they did.

Overall, Wall•E is about as pure as David Archuleta singing “O! Holy Night” at the Vatican with Josh Groban at the piano and Celine Dion singing background harmony with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, near a 30 foot Christmas tree, while the Vienna Boys Choir are releasing white doves out into a crowd of thousands of listeners below. Yes, it’s just that family-friendly. Actually, a little more so, because there are no birds to crap on you while watching this movie. It’s better than that. Seriously. I know. I get carried away sometimes, but with Wall•E it’s easy to do. He’s just so adorable.

Excuse me now. I’m getting the Scrubbing Bubbles and going to the kitchen to give my little compacter a massage.

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