Wall-E, Intrepid Trash Collector
Posted by hyperpat on July 3, 2008
Once again, it would seem that Pixar has created what may be the best movie of the year, in any genre. At the very least, it should rank as the best animated flick of the year. If you haven’t seen it yet, rectify that situation immediately, and take your grandmother and grandson with you.
WARNING: There are some spoilers below. Don’t continue reading if you haven’t seen it yet. Although this movie lends itself to multiple viewings, you should see it first without any expectations. I guarantee that you will end up laughing and crying at the same time, and your $10 will have been well spent.
First off, this really is a science fiction movie. It does exactly what sf should do: imagine the continuation of some current trends and looks at the results. It starts with the concept that humans have made a real trash-heap out of the Earth, so bad that neither humans nor anything else can live there anymore. What’s left of humanity has exited, stage-left, in giant luxury space-ships, to await the time that the clean-up robots they’ve left behind will have finished cleaning up the place. Wall-E is one such robot, the last one left that’s still operational, and his daily work is picking up all the trash laying around, compacting it into cubes, and stacking up the cubes – which by the time this movie opens form skyscrapers. The picture that is painted is a depressing one, not just because we can see just how badly humans have treated their home world, but because we can see just how much is still left to do, with only one little robot there to accomplish the task. Not a standard start for what is in essence a romantic comedy.
The comedy of this movie is not forced, nor is it a parody playing on other sf films or TV series, as Galaxy Quest does. Instead it creates its own environment, and the comedy derives from the bitter-sweet circumstances of a very lonely Wall-E. The only other living thing he has as a companion is a cockroach (which does play on some long-ago statements that such insects would be the last survivors of a world catastrophe). His off-time is spent viewing old romantic movies and collecting and studying various interesting bits of trash, such as a Rubick’s cube. Wall-E is beat up, rusty, getting by by scavenging spare parts from other, now dysfunctional, Wall-Es – a Charlie Chaplin figure down on his luck. As John Scalzi analyzes, this is very unusual for a sf movie. So the attraction he feels for Eva, a sleek, modern robot sent back to Earth by what’s left of humanity to determine if conditions have improved enough to return, is immediate and very understandable.
The plot continues to unfold in true science fiction fashion, as we see what has become of humanity after seven hundred years of floating around in their luxury space-ship, with every need instantly gratified by ubiquitous servant robots. And this is done without long voice-overs (in fact, there is very little real dialog in the entire movie), but rather with some very effective visuals that explain instantly how things got to be the way they are today. Even better, the science is real. There is one sequence where Wall-E jets around in space by using the propulsive action of disinfectant spray bottle – a sequence that, while not having the majesty of the shuttle docking to a space station of 2001: A Space Odyssey, shows the consequences Newton’s third law in an amusing, beautiful, and effective manner.
It’s very rare to find Hollywood script writers who understand what science fiction is all about, and even rarer for them to able to combine such ideas with comedy and romance without making a mess of things. This one does it. If this doesn’t take at least the Hugo for best movie, and several Oscars, something is very wrong.