Ben Burt as voice of WALLE/M-O
Elissa Knight as voice of Eve
Jeff Garlin as voice of the Captain
John Ratzenberger as the voice of John
Kathy Najimy as the voice of Mary
Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the Ship’s Computer
Fred Willard as Shelby Forthright
It’s not often that you find ‘post-apocalyptic’ and ‘delightful’ going together in the same sentence, but they’re essential to describe the deceptively artful new film from Pixar, where everything, even the ruined remains of Earth, is proven to be beautiful from the right perspective and optimism grows like a small little vine that refuses to die.
And that’s important, because the Earth of the future can no longer support life. It’s been used up by humanity, who have at some point left it behind and had gone off into space and all that’s left are mountains and mountains of garbage, an unintentional man-made monument to prove we were once there, and one tiny little robot cleaning it all up. He gets up every day, sets about his work despite how futile and never ending it seems on the face of it, comes home, zones out in front of the television and goes to sleep before waking up to start the whole business over again. In a cynic’s hands this would be the ultimate condemnation of modern life; in writer/director Andrew Stanton’s (“Finding Nemo”) it’s a celebration of it. WALLE doesn’t feel run down or unfulfilled by his work partly because he doesn’t really understand it, or seek to. It’s just what he does, it’s not who he is. Instead he cheerfully goes about his everyday life, ignoring the monotony and enormity of it in favor of the small mercies and joys that he finds lying around waiting to be discovered a shiny spork, a lighter, the odd musical and that’s just the beginning.
That said, and before I go any further, I need to talk about that beginning, because it’s also the one real problem “WALLE” has; the premise the plot is based around is just bad; there’s no other way to say it.
At some point in the future, a thinly disguised Wal-Mart substitute called Buy n Large has effectively taken over the world. All businesses are Buy n Large, everyone works for Buy n Large, everything and anything people need are made and sold by Buy n Large. Even governments have broken down and been replaced by Buy n Large; the company’s CEO (Fred Willard) is portrayed as effectively the CEO of the world. It’s some sort of strange capitalistic communism, where everyone everywhere lives an equal life of upper (or at least middle class) ease, and the problems of poverty and hunger have been replaced by consumerism fueled by an apparently endless array of robots. Humans don’t have to do or know anything because of an unending line of machines and automation that take care of it for them. Where do the machines come from then? Other machines. And where do those machines come from? Other machines. It’s turtles, Mr. Einstein, turtles all the way down. Nevermind the question of how a corporate economy is supposed to exist where the consumers don’t work.
It’s not just that it’s unbelievable, because frankly, I could let that slide. Latitude can usually be made when exaggerating for comedic effect, and likewise when trying to explain a complex situation to a wide audience. However, they’ve picked a very, very obvious starting point and not really put any thought into it or what it says about the rest of their movie, and considering how good the rest of the movie, it really is a glaring flaw.
It’s easy to say that sort of thing is just a nitpick and doesn’t have much to do with the movie itself, except that it does. The film and its themes completely hang off the consumer premise, especially in the last act when the main conflict is finally revealed. More importantly, it stands in stark contrast to the main theme of the movie, which is really about the essence of what humanity is made of, by simplifying the complexity of human experience to an absurd degree, beyond even what a satirical take could get away with. They’ve taken the easy way out by taking two very obvious targets that are completely incompatible, and melding them together into one really, really big target so they could get their story where they wanted it to be, instead of putting in the effort to get there by a better route. And considering how much thought and effort has been put into everything else in the film there’s really no excuse for that.
Now, all of that said, it really is a testament to how good “WALLE” is that that is not only the one real negative in the film, but that it almost doesn’t matter. “WALLE” is a cinematic gem in the purest sense of the phrase. Almost everything in it, story, character, theme, is told through the montage of picture and sound, not to abstraction but definitely without any of the prosaic elements usually found in big studio picture. There is no exposition; in fact there is almost no dialogue at all. The main character doesn’t even speak for the first time until he meets Eve, a robot probe from space and the love of his life for whom he will literally go to the end of the universe. “WALLE” is told almost purely through visuals and sound effects, and yet never for a moment is there anything in it that is unclear, nor is there a moment when WALLE himself is anything less than a completely defined, completely relatable character. It’s not so much that Stanton and company have realized some sort of miracle beyond the ken of man, as they have brought their film to a point that any film is capable of but few actually reach. With only a very few exceptions (and all having to do with characters that actually talk) they never try to hard to force their story or their characters where they need to go; it just works with the effortless grace of a ballerina.
But the real joys of “WALLE” are the same as the joys of WALLE’s life the small joys that come along unnoticed and unexpected and make everything worthwhile. If the premise weren’t quite so lazy or noticeable (the nature of the plot makes it impossible not to think about it) I might say “WALLE” was perfect, or at least as close as anyone can reasonably get. As it is, it’s still so good you owe it to yourself to see it.