– Review by Paul Ewbank-
My first post on here was about the most depressing Apocalyptic vision I have ever encountered. This got me thinking about whether stories about the end of the world could ever be…well, happy. I don’t mean have a happy ending, of course that can happen, I’m talking about the story being a genuinely positive, uplifting experience. I’m convinced it can happen. I’m currently in the middle of rewriting a rom-com short story I wrote about the romance between a guy called Ed and a member of a race of elite uber robots who took over the world and enslaved humanity. It’s… a little weird. Maybe I’ll post it up here sometime. Anyway, point is that even a really, really dark premise can be made fun if handled properly. A shining example of this is my all time favourite film, Pixar’s classic sci-fi animation Wall-E.
On paper, the opening scenario of Wall-E is pretty jolly miserable. Earth has been totally ruined and abandoned by humanity, and a single robot is left to clean up a polluted, barren earth, oblivious to the fact he is the sole remaining sentient life form on the planet. In any other hands this would be the start of a brooding, lonely film along the lines of Castaway of I Am Legend. But this is Pixar. Instead of moping around and dwelling on the unpleasantness of his life, the film shows Wall-E making the most of it- hording anything he likes in his little house, playing around with the piles of junk and looking after his sole companion, a cockroach. The first act of the film has virtually no dialogue, instead relying on Wall-E’s exquisite animation (another Pixar standard) and a well matched score to provide the emotional connection. It’s the sort of light hearted fun you expect from Pixar, but it’s not without its poignant moments. Every now and then there’ll be a lingering shot of the vast empty world to give things just a hint of the loneliness of classic sci-fi, and the moment when Wall-E watches the video of people dancing and tries to mimic holding hands always makes me well up.
This warm hearted, wistful tone continues as Wall-E meets EVE (“eeevaaaaa!”). The scene where he shows her all his assorted junk is probably my favourite part of the film, and the montage of Wall-E looking after EVE when she goes into sleep mode is alternately heart warming and hilarious. Once they get up into space things get a lot more lively but the emotional heart of the film isn’t forgotten. I absolutely love the shiny, clinical look of the Axiom, and the design of the other robots is fantastic. Writer/Director Andrew Stanton and cohorts also use this segment to poke fun at consumerist society and at the direction it is leading humankind in a very enjoyable way. The final hour has all the action and excitement that you’d expect from a so-called children’s animated film, and the ending is just beautiful- a long-delayed homecoming and accepting of responsibility which brings things to a hopeful end. Check out the animations over the end credits too, they’re a blast.
Pixar are well known for making films that work on a number of levels, and Wall-E really shines in this. A perfectly enjoyable kids movie, Wall-E will also delight adults due to its timeless story and humour, as well as its stunning animation, cinematography, and powerful thematic ideas. Environmental concerns and consumerist society are addressed in a way that’s obvious but not preachy or detrimental to the film. The advancement of technology and its damaging effect on the human ability to form relationships is a powerful and timely warning. And it’s nice to see Stanton’s Christian faith working its way into the film. Watch it again with the story of Noah’s ark in mind and you’ll see what I mean (hint: EVE=the dove). According to Stanton himself, however, the overarching point of the film isn’t political or environmental; it’s a call to love: “What really interested me was the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love, but that’s not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that could demonstrate what I was trying to say-that irrational love defeats the world’s programming.”
I’ve kind of gone off point a bit here I think. This article has basically just become me raving about how awesome Wall-E is. Oh well. This was never going to be a subject I could talk about with the detached critique of a scholar. This is…Wall-E. One of my favourite things ever and an absolutely flawless movie in every regard. Biased? Me? Not at all. But seriously, this is a great example of how to put a bit of heart into a genre where real positive emotion so often feels secondary to big concepts or dreary morbidity. And it does so with pretty much the same set of ingredients used to make the majority of post apocalyptic fiction: inhospitable world, lonely protagonist, hidden human colony etc. With just a few twists to the usual formula Pixar created a story about humans bringing about the end of the world, yet told it in a way that would put a smile on every human face.