Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thoughts on WALL-E

This isn't a film blog, but I frequent quite a few every day. My favorite is
Living in Cinema, where the posts are always smart and funny and insightful, and the highly lively comments section has discussions among the two-dozen or so regulars that will go on for days or weeks, spinning wildly off topic at times. They are for the most part, way more informed about films than I am, but all are welcomed to discuss. If any of you are movie buffs, check it out. 

Yesterday, a very nice and intelligent feller from New Zealand on there politely asked what he was not "getting" about WALL-E, 2008's animated movie from Pixar Studios. It's won a bunch of critics' awards, even some Best Picture prizes from various esteemed critical groups, and he had just watched it, and couldn't quite see why it was so acclaimed. Movie watching is subjective, of course, but I thought I'd respond with what I thought were the film's strengths. 

I liked the film the first time I saw it, then watched the DVD with my family again over the holidays and fell head over heels for the little robot story. Here's what I wrote over in the comments section at LiC. It's a rather long comment, but a nice size for a blog posting, so I figured I'd double dip and use it over here, too. It's not a formal review, and not as polished as it would be if it were, but I thought my rather forgiving parents, et al, might enjoy reading it.

If you haven't seen WALL-E, try to find a copy soon. I don't own it yet, but I will. 
Here's what I think the critics are seeing, that for whatever perfectly valid reason, you are not.
WALL-E is at its heart a celebration of humanity's ingenuity, creativity, and capacity to overcome even our worst selfish, slothful impulses and grow into something better, for the sake of something bigger than our own bloated selves. It's about the power of one, the power of two, the power of many. WALL-E himself is as much a human invention as the mess he was created to clean up; his character traits (resourcefulness, curiosity, loneliness, dilligence, loyalty, friendship, love, rashness, courage, the ability to learn) are a direct reflection of our own. Eve, too, is a product of us, directly or indirectly. It's a story, not new, but told in new ways, that reminds us through hyperbole and metaphor of how much we, today, now, need to remember to cherish life in all its forms and have the courage to trust and reclaim our own creative spirit.
WALL-E tells this story in a dazzlingly beautiful technical feat of animation that on a somewhat meta level itself makes the same thematic case: Look what beauty we can create, how warm and imaginative this technology can be, bringing us closer together and to our best selves. We mortals cannot be underestimated, and neither can the possibilities of animation. The art direction, animated cinematography, editing, sound, all the technicals are top shelf.
And as a bonus for film critics, WALL-E simultaneously draws from eight decades of cinematic history–most notably, from the dawn of cinema–to quietly honor film's most powerful and poignant role in our lives, that of sustaining us in the dark times and reminding us, through whatever improbable means (Hello, Dolly, of all films, is the one highlighted), of what's really important. It's a film rich in symbolism and layers of meaning that is steeped in film history and makes a strong argument for film's future.
The screenplay gives equal weight to humanity's dual talents for destruction and construction, using the current gathering environmental crisis as a trope that grounds the otherwise sci-fi fantasy in relevance to our immediate future. The real villains in the picture aren't mutinous AI, but the demons within ourselves that compel us to consume more and more and faster and easier and forget what it is that makes us human, that creative spark and need to forge a path ever forward.
Meanwhile, it has a timeless love story between a bumbling but charming and well-intentioned Chaplin-esque male and a fierce and feminist female who connects to her softer core self, each of whom changes and grows better for knowing the other during the course of the film. That's what real romance does, makes us better people individually and as a couple for discovering that soul-sustaining partnership. It is a love that was never programmed to be, and yet, must be.
It's a film that like the best of sci-fi asks, "What if?" and then takes us on a bleak path that does not have to be. It's a film that channels the deep undercurrent of hope, even amidst the darkest of crises–the death of our planet and the devolution of our species–and has a resounding echo of the rallying cry of 2008: "Yes we can!"
To top it off, and almost as asides to its other many treasures, WALL-E also contains significant amounts of humor that don't rely on fart jokes and pop culture allusions, a misshapen band of merry Island-of-Lost-Toys-esque robots who discover they still have value, a prolonged and joyfully magical cinematic sequence of robots in love spiraling through space, and an endearing cockroach who just won't die.
It's one heck of a great film, in my opinion.


Anonymous said...

Wow! What a review! I'm going to see Wally again.


Laura said...

aww, my sister is so gosh darn good at writin' I think I should watch it again too now.

Craig Kennedy said...

(tapping foot) long have you been hiding this blog from me? :)

jennybee said...

Oh, Craig, I was pretty sure you'd find it sooner or later. I haven't done much with it yet, as you can see. I seem to get my main blogging urges when I'm in the middle of deadlines, which doesn't of course give me much time to write anything worthwhile. Hoping to develop it more this year, though. Get some actual writing in here.

Craig Kennedy said...

Well, I'm delighted you're putting your talents to good use and I look forward to keeping an eye on what you're doing, at whatever pace you find yourself able to do it.