MOVIE REVIEW: “Wall-E” (2008)

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I can *not* say enough good things about this movie, I just loved the hell out of it.

Now, as you know, I’m a fairly harsh critic, and I’m also rather critical of the environmental movement as a whole. I don’t consider myself opposed to it, but I am extremely skeptical of the movement’s reliance on bad science, public emotionalism, ignorance, and entirely-ironic lack of consideration about the results of any of its actions. (For instance, the international famine at present is entirely the result of the Environmentalist’s decision to switch from oil to ethanol, thereby taking all our surplus grain production out of the mouths of the world’s poor, and putting it in your tank). I’m also more than a bit dubious of how the movement is using an almost-messianic fervor to gain political and economic power.

As such, I totally expected to hate Wall-E. Partially this was because the movie has been strenuously marketed to Greens as ‘Must-watch propaganda’, and also because, let’s face it, Pixar’s been in a bit of a creative slump lately, haven’t they? I’m not saying they lost money, I’m not even saying that they didn’t make obscene amounts of money, but come on, admit it: Cars sucked. Rattatouie sucked too. The stories weren’t inspired, they were just kinda’ there, and worse yet they ignored Pixar’s thematic ‘Secret weapon’ – the things the movies appear to be about are not the things the movies are actually about.

Think about it:

Toy Story is about how to deal with life when you realize you’re not as great as you are; Bug’s Life (Which also sucks) is about how we are what we pretend to be; Toy Story 2 is about how to deal with life when you suddenly realize you’re way the hell more than you thought you were; Monsters, inc. is about how the things we fear can end up helping us; Finding Nemo (Though I didn’t enjoy it) is all about facing the basic fears that keep us from being happy; The Incredibles was the inverse of Bugs life, kinda, to wit: “When everyone is special, no one is.”

And then you’ve got Cars, which is…well…about….uhm…Cars, I guess. And then a movie about a rat who can cook people-food. Not exactly in the same league, thematically speaking, now is it?

Also, I think part of the problem has been that whereas Pixar heretofore always did whatever they wanted and trusted that an audience would find it, the last two films have shown a propensity towards jumping on someone else’s bandwagon, you know? “NASCAR’s popular, we should make a movie ‘bout that!” “You know, being a ‘Foodie’ is kind of trendy right now, we should maybe do a film ‘bout that!” and of course from this progression, it was logical for me to conclude that the current film was a case of “Hey, you know what? Environmentalism is trendy right now, so let’s do a movie ‘bout that!” And of course it was logical to assume it would be as lame as its two immediate forebearers.

I could not have been more wrong.

Let me restate that: I’m *Happy* to say I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The movie is, start to finish, absolutely great. It is a significant departure from the standard “Pixar Movie,” and I mean that in a good way. The first half of the film has a quirky, laconic pacing that has more in common w/ a western than the normal slapstick way of doing things, but it’s hypnotic and beautiful in the way that a good Tarkovsky movie is, but without the need for the audience to invest hours of their time for just one scene. The story unfolds in clever fashion, and the almost-dialog-free first half of the film is strangely refreshing. Rather than tell us what’s going on, what happened, and who these characters are, we’re left to discover it ourselves by actually paying attention, which makes it stylistically similar to a silent film. It’s a great experiment that works, though I’d stop short of calling it ‘bold.’ There’s nothing here we (Well, I) haven’t seen before, but never quite in this fashion, and they do a really really good job blending pre-existing concepts into a cohesive new whole. There’s even some clever usage of live-action actors, a first for a Pixar film.

The second half of the film is more like a standard Pixar flick, but I mean that in a good way, and after the (Pleasant, successful) narrative experimentation of the first hour, the second half was a nice return to form, in much the same way that this film serves as a return to form for Pixar as a whole.

So is it propaganda?

Eh. Yeah, but it’s propaganda-lite. If they have an agenda, they don’t hit you over the head with it, and it’s mostly in the first half-hour. After that, it’s all about the story, and it’s a damn good story. Admittedly, it’s your basic science fiction chestnut, but like the experimental first half, it’s dusted off and recombined and repackaged well, and I really enjoyed it. It’s more like “Silent Running” than it is “The Day After Tomorrow” and surprisingly it’s really more like “Logan’s Run” than it is either of those films. Best of all: in the tradition of the best Pixar films, the movie is not about what it appears to be about.

In the end, the movie really isn’t really about Environmentalism at all, it’s very strongly about self-determination.

Strongly recommended: 5 out of 5 stars. Also, neither here nor there, but director Andrew Stanton previous did Finding Nemo (Which, as I said, I didn’t enjoy), but after this flick he’s jumped to the top of my animation directorial hero list, eclipsing Brad Bird. Also, I see that he’s slated to direct Pixar’s “John Carter of Mars” due out in 2012, and I could not be more optimistic about that!