Pixar has always been sort of like the homeschooled Asian kid in a spelling bee: They’re so fucking good at what they do you sometimes wish they’d slip up JUST so you can know they’re human. Pixar just kept making masterpiece after masterpiece, and people – myself included – started to wonder if it wouldn’t be “nice” to see them blow it ONCE just to see what that would look like… and then they made a wretched piece of shit called CARS – the 2nd worst talking-automobile movie of the century. Talk about a monkey’s paw moment, eh? “Okay guys, you’re human after all. That’s nice… but please don’t ever suck again, okay?”
Fortunately, Ratatouille was a welcome return to form and now we have Wall*E; so far the best American film of 2008 and… dare I say it? Maybe one of the best science fiction films EVER. That ain’t me fishing for a blurb, kids, I’m serious. We’re talking 2001, Metropolis, E.T., Day the Earth Stood Still here. It’s THAT FUCKING GOOD.
Having managed to literally cover the planet in garbage, we’re informed that the entire human race took off for a five-year space-vacation during which time an army of robots called Wall*Es were supposed to clean the place up. As we open, it’s clearly been A LOT longer than five years and only one Wall*E remains. He’s still dutifully collecting and stacking trash, but at some point he started developing a personality. He collects shiny trinkets, watches a Betamax tape of “Hello Dolly” to memorization and… well, he’s lonely as all hell. So when a mysterious girl robot named Eve shows up, he’s immediately smitten and makes impressing her his new prime-directive.
This first half of the film is, as you’ve heard, amazing filmmaking. No dialogue save for a few of the robot’s limited beeping, it’s all told by gesture and physical-acting by two profoundly non-human characters. We’re basically watching the “romance” blossoming between what are essentially a baby garbage-truck and big flying Ipod… and it’s sweet and moving as all HELL, that’s filmmaking right there.
Eve, however, is no ordinary robot – she’s a probe, sent by a still-spacebound humanity to seek signs of flora and fauna on Earth… and when Wall*E inadvertently helps her accomplish this, they wind up wisked into outer space where Wall*E and we learn what’s become of humanity it what it now seems has been 700 YEARS away from home.
A lot has been said now about the second half of the film, and it’s supposedly “radical” environmental message. The “new” humanity, we learn, have been living in a mechanically-automated utopia for so long they’ve de-evolved into a species of perpetual giant babies, robbed both of the capacity and desire for self-reliance. There’s no missing the broad satiric swipes at couch-culture and Wal-Mart, but that’s where the much-ballyhooed “edge” ends and why I’m calling BULLSHIT on the so-called “conservative” culture-critics who’ve opened fire on the film.
Guys, really: There’s not ONE mention of oil, carbon footprints, fossil fuels or global warming. None. The big “eco-disaster” is LITTERING. Are you really going to seriously tell me that “don’t litter” is now an unacceptably partisan message for a CHILDREN’S FILM? For fuck’s sake, it’s not even really about consumer goods or corporate greed – the humans are enslaved by their own unwitting sloth, having lived for generations in a system of cradle-to-grave automated care with no demand to fend for themselves – it’s about rejecting utopia for self-sufficiency – so-called “right-wingers?” THAT’S SUPPOSED TO BE YOU’RE DAMN WHOLE IDEOLOGY!!!
Honestly, at first I was bracing to be disappointed by this second half. The ads have done such a good job keeping things secret, I was thinking it might be possible that the humans would be the BAD GUYS of the film – perhaps with sinister plans for Eve and Wall*E would have to thwart them and maybe it’d end with Wall*E blasting these useless fleshbags out of the sky and heading back to repopulate Earth with his lady. I mean, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of humanity from day to day, you may have noticed. THAT’S an ending I wanna see in a cartoon.
But it became clear pretty quickly that that wasn’t where they were going. Nope, as it turns out Pixar has an optimistic view of humanity, and imagines that the incremental anarchy Wall*E’s mere presence fosters on the starship can serve to wake up their dormant spirit and drive them to reach for their own potential. One character is so captivated by a few crumbs of DIRT from Wall*E’s wheels that he googles his way through human history and is eventually seized by the desire to become a farmer. Wall*E just wants to win the girl, but fate – and Pixar – have cast him as nothing less than the inadvertent savior of the entire human race.
And y’know what? IT WORKS! And I was right there with it! As the blimp-shaped descendants of humankind slowly regain the concepts of conversation, contact, love and individuality… the film’s secondary story (we’re still ALWAYS first-and-foremost with Wall*E and his quest to rescue Eve) becomes the kind of celebration of humanity rising to the occasion that you usually only get from old war movies. This is a film that genuinely believes that WE are as inherently good and capable as Wall*E is, and while it was running I was really feeling the vibe.
So, yeah, there’s a blurb for ya: “WALL*E! It’s so good it made me STOP hating my fellow man for a whole 90 minutes!”
FINAL RATING: 10/10