I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by the film. Not because it was bad - it wasn't - but because the film offered such a nice premise, a beautiful first act setup, which was squandered when the narrative moved its way into space. During the first scenes I remember feeling that I was watching a very good film, something quite sweet and magical, but that feeling almost completely dissipated after spending far too much time away from the story that I believed I was watching: that of a lonely little robot seeking companionship, even love.
Perhaps it's because I liked Wall*E the robot so much that I felt sad when his journey was shortchanged in service of poorly thought-out political statements and zany antics that did little more than move the plot forward. In the second half of the film, Wall*E, along with the cast of other robots and characters, are reduced to caricatures of clowns, rather than embodying true clowns of old (a la Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, who ironically are channeled very well in the beginning) to perform simple gags and helping the filmmakers push a message that is as preachy as it is confused.
Several times the film decides to attempt something audacious and commendable, and rather than follow through, it backtracks and opts out of the initial commitments, and this is most likely the source of my frustration. Examples:
- The love story of Wall*E and EVE is set up nicely with no discernible dialogue and the audience is fully on board with this idea. An elderly Eastern European couple were sitting next to me, and children were sitting behind me. They were all enchanted by the story, as was I. I remember feeling what a wonderful thing this was - a story so universal that pretty much anyone in the world can understand it at the same level, no subtitles necessary. When EVE is taken away into space, and Wall*E points out the galaxies to her while she sleeps, I thought it was beautiful and poignant. It turns out that doing a film without conventional dialogue was a great idea, and people are willing to go with it 100 percent. So, what do the filmmakers decide to do after garnering such good faith for such a bold decision? Sadly, they turn their back on it. By introducing the human element and a large cast of other robots with personalities, they quiet the noise of Wall*E's desire for love and to be loved, and his nice little story becomes overshadowed by the film's second attempt at trying something bold...
- Satire has been fertile ground for some of the most entertaining (and timely) works of art and literature, from Voltaire's Candide to Monty Python's Flying Circus to MAD Magazine to more recent works like Mike Judge's Office Space. I absolutely love this stuff. But when I'm sitting in a theater completely engrossed by an earnest love story about a lonely soul, the last thing my brain and heart want to enter into is a satire about American consumer culture. However, I'm pretty open-minded, so I'll go with the flow... The way the film has been setting things up, the view of humanity has been pretty bleak, where apparently humans have jettisoned themselves into space after they rendered their planet uninhabitable with their buildup of trash. They are now floating in space, fatter than pigs, unable to walk, and barely able to think for themselves. This is all fun stuff, but it seems misplaced here in the middle of a movie that's asking people to have faith in humanity (which now seems to reside in the heart of the little robot). The people acting nice and polite to Wall*E and each other is just not enough to restore that faith after the devastation of earth that was previously shown. Had the filmmakers taken a less heavy-handed approach on the satire, it would have worked so much better. You can't just assume that the audience must simply believe that people are inherently good. It's far more effective to show them why. Wall*E would have been a great conduit for that, but sadly the connection is not made. Instead, we have a half-hearted satire where the subjects being criticized are then made out to be victims (of the poorly established "bad robot villains"), basically weakening any of the satirical bite that the film aspired to have.
It would have been nice to see the villains or adversity be things that were getting in the way of Wall*E and EVE being together. Much like the unlikely friendship that is formed in the film (and book) Enemy Mine, it would have been nice to see Wall*E's love for EVE being tested amidst the chaos of a living society upon her return. It would have been nice if the fate of the little green plant tied into Wall*E's love for EVE through some sort of emotional significance, so that the fate of humanity truly rested upon the love between the two robots, instead of simply being a plot hindrance to the love story (which the filmmakers immediately retract when Wall*E decides that bringing humans back to earth is the most important thing). It would have also been nice to see humanity's foibles remain in the background and play out like shadows in the information they left behind, much like the videos of the live-action actors shown at the beginning of the film. It would have allowed the audience to continue to ask more questions, rather than the film telling them how things are and should be, eliminating any sense of mystery and magic that was built up. Essentially, it would have been nice if the entire film was as strong and as focused as the first thirty minutes. If the filmmakers hadn't shown me the potential of what they were doing and turned away from it, I would have very little to say except to tell everyone how wonderful the film is. As it is, I was shown a wonderful half hour of the beauty of simplicity in storytelling that was derailed by a messy and lazy second half, which, considering the weight of the ideas being expressed, seemed surprisingly inconsequential.
The old Eastern European lady sitting next to me was shaking her head and asking her husband questions while the captain of the Axiom was fighting with the ship's autopilot during the climax of the film. Now, I don't know if it's because she was confused or disappointed, but either way, I think I would have agreed with her sentiment when it comes to the film's story.
My rant about the story aside, I did enjoy the immaculate visuals, fluid animation, and keen observations of the real world expressed in caricature that are the hallmarks of Pixar animated films. I also loved the sound design by Ben Burtt and enjoyed the score by Thomas Newman. The particle effects team or the compositing group at Pixar also deserve some kind of award, because this film has some of the best and most beautiful dust clouds I have ever seen. I would still recommend the film to people, as I had a good time watching it, and I believe people will take the film for what it is and enjoy it.
As a story person, I guess because I still (try to) hold Pixar to a high standard on the story front (something that doesn't cost much money to get right) I can't help but feel disappointed by these mediocre stories with lavish productions that seem to represent the new Pixar standard (Cars, Ratatouille). It seems that ever since Joe Ranft passed away, they don't quite make films like they used to. The new films ask for plenty of sympathy, but they seem to lack the the level of empathy in their previous efforts.
Last edited by Kazu on Mon Jun 30, 2008 3:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.