Wednesday, January 4, 2017
How does one even try to describe WALL-E? Extraordinary is a good start. The animation, or rather what Pixar achieved with it, had never been attempted before and it's never been achieved since. The desolate, deserted, garbage covered Earth looked real. WALL-E, the dedicated little trash robot didn't look like a cartoon, he actually looked like a machine made out of steel and glass. The love of his life, the sleek, ovoid EVE, does look more cartoonlike. I think it's her shape and the fact that she hovers and has no visible connection between her egg shaped body, arms and head.
WALL-E shows a rather frightening future. Earth was largely taken over by a giant corporation called Buy 'N' Large, we eventually created so much garbage that the planet became uninhabitable. Those that could afford to leave took off for the stars in a giant spaceliner. The intention was to stay in orbit until the WALL-E garbage units could clean up the planet and make it liveable.
That was 700 years ago. The planet is still broken. The rest of the units have given up. There's only WALL-E left. He spends his days collecting, compacting trash into cubes, then stacking them up where he can find the space to do so. He's created entire skyscrapers of these cubes. His one and only friend is a cockroach (that's a reference to the adage that no matter what we do to the planet somehow cockroaches will survive). WALL-E's nights are spent locked up from the nightly dust storms, in a decorated storage unit, watching an old recording of Hello, Dolly!
Then one day EVE appears and WALL-E falls in love with her. EVE can be a BAMF when she needs to be too. She finds a small plant that WALL-E has discovered and stored with his other treasures and this is her directive, to find evidence that organic life can survive on Earth, take it back to the ship and they can return.
In the time they've been in space, the ship's auto pilot has taken over and while there is a captain, he's a figurehead who just does what the auto pilot tells him to. The presence of WALL-E and EVE and their relationship, which overrides any programming they may have had forces the captain to take independent action and with the help of a bunch of broken robots and a few aware passengers they return to Earth. I doubt the ability of these people to survive, let alone rebuild humanity, but the ending is upbeat, for what is a fairly bleak outlook for a feel good cartoon.
The weird thing about WALL-E is that there is hardly any dialogue until WALL-E and EVE get on board the ship and interact with the captain and a couple of passengers. For most of the film the only words spoken are WALL-E and EVE and these in robotic voices. WALL-E is the achievement, though. Somehow the animators made this character sympathetic to audiences. We were genuinely concerned for the humble little robot, he made us laugh and cry and pull for him the entire time.
Pixar have always worn their heart on their sleeve in their films, especially when there are ecological concerns (another thing that was surprising about Cars, it glorified fuel consumption and consumerism) and this has never been more evident than in WALL-E, despite the hopeful ending.
Because the main characters are robots with limited vocabularies, the casting mirrored that. There are only 4 real casting choices I can talk about.
One is the captain of the ship played by actor and comedian Jeff Garlin. At the time Garlin had done Curb Your Enthusiasm, although I know him as Murray Goldberg in The Goldbergs, and it didn't matter what his cartoon version looked like I kept seeing Murray commanding a star cruiser.
Another cast member was Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the ship. Casting Sigourney Weaver, beast known for her role as Ripley in the Alien franchise just seemed to work for some reason.
Kathy Najimy had a cameo as Mary, one of the passengers on Axiom and kind of representative of the women on board. John Katzenberger as John was her male counterpart.
For technical achievement at least as well as depth of feeling I couldn't wait to see what Pixar would do next.