The American Film Institute recently presented the top ten films in ten genres. One of these genres was the Animated film category, and it ranged from new films such as “Finding Nemo” and “Shrek” to classics like “Bambi” and “Snow White.” It’s a shame that the AFI did not wait until next year for this particular list, as Pixar’s newest film “WALL•E” would not only be on that list but deserves the top spot. The track record of Pixar has been near impeccable, and their latest addition to the list of animated treasures is not only the best animated film of all time – it’s by far the best of 2008.
“WALL•E” was brilliantly written and directed by veteran Pixar animator/director Andrew Stanton (he directed both “A Bug’s Life” and “Finding Nemo”). Voiced by the father of modern cinematic sound Ben Burtt (the sound effects innovator behind “Star Wars”), the most unlikely hero of the 29th Century turns out to be lovable little robot classified as Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class a.k.a. WALL•E.
The story takes place 700 years from now, in a time in which Earth has been uninhabited due to the conglomerate take-over of “Buy n’ Large” whose governmental control (run by CEO Shelby Forthright, as portrayed by comic genius Fred Willard) causes over-pollution and an extreme excess of garbage. Humanity has fled in space ships and a fleet of “Buy N’ Large’s” WALL•E bots are given the job to clean up our mess. At the start of the film, we find that our hero is the only of his kind left. Loneliness has attributed an unfettered personality to this little robot and he lives his life day to day making garbage cubes and collecting hundreds of “treasures” to fulfill his endearing curiosities. Some of these artifacts include a brassiere, a paddleball, a rubix cube, and the object that will change WALL•E’s life forever: a seemingly insignificant seedling.
WALL•E has an adorable fascination with love, and every night he watches a VHS of “Hello, Dolly” (on an iPod screen?) and dreams of the day when he will get his true love. He gets his wish when the sleek Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator a.k.a. EVE (Voiced by Elissa Knight) arrives and the once lonely little robot becomes infatuated. WALL•E eagerly follows EVE as she scans the city. Right as their friendship starts to blossom, WALL•E excitedly shows EVE his treasures including his botanical prize. Unfortunately for WALL•E, achieving proof of life is EVE’s mission and soon enough both of them are whisked away to outer space.
We find that humanity has in fact devolved into fat simpletons incapable of physical activity, and is run by an especially rotund Captain (Jeff Garlin) who, like the rest of civilization at this point has a robot (his is named AUTO) ready at his every need. It is at this point that WALL•E’s adventure begins and in what is quite possibly the most visually superior film of all time. We can’t help but root for the little guy and fall in love with animated film all over again. Remember that reason you first fell in love with the movies? “WALL•E” is a reminder of that first love and is that basis for why we go to the movie theater in the first place.
First of all, the script is an auspicious piece of golden brilliance. Half of the film is devoid of dialogue, yet Stanton still managed to create a thriving story through the excellent characterization of his title character. The reason we immediately fall for WALL•E is his sweet nature and his childlike innocence. A combination of perfect scripting and engaging animation technique, WALL•E is one of the better characters in 21st century film.
The other thing our little robot has going for him is the delectable choice of Ben Burtt as his voice. Not only does Burtt voice the title character, he also helps to verbalize WALL•E’s pursuing, obsessive compulsive cleaning bot M-O. Relative newcomer Elissa Knight (her only other credit is a small voice-role in Pixar’s “Cars”) also does a wonderful job with her four lines (albeit repeated many times) and will hopefully have a huge career ahead of her.
The film also features a terrific score by Thomas Newman. The score is outstandingly charming, sometimes haunting, and all around perfect for this particular tale. While the original trailers for “WALL•E” excited moviegoers by featuring the fitting usage of Michael Kamen’s bouncy score for Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” Newman’s score is in fact more appropriate for the final piece.
One of the best things about Pixar has always been their originality. The depiction of the human race as mindless masses is the perfect example of this. WALL•E encounters two particular humans on the spaceship named Mary (Kathy Najimy) and John (Pixar’s perennial voice actor John Ratzenberger). WALL•E opens their eyes to the world around them, just by accidentally bumping into them and turning off their computers. WALL•E inadvertently teaches both characters and us to appreciate the things we inherently take advantage of and miss in through our day-to-day laze. While the film doesn’t necessarily making an outward statement about our habits toward the environment, it would be ignorant to miss the comparisons.
In the end, you can’t help but fall in love with the story of WALL•E and EVE who just happen to join Bogey & Bacall, Allen & Keaton, and Crystal & Ryan in the best of love on the big screen. “WALL•E” is a masterpiece of filmmaking in terms of animation, storytelling, and also science fiction. Not only is this film “Blade Runner” for kids, it also happens to be the most eye-opening cautionary sci-fi tale since Ridley Scott’s 1982 opus and again, the best film of 2008.