WALL·E ★★★★★

To Infinity: A Pixar Marathon

#09 - Wall•E (2008)

Combining the quintessential and the cutting edge of cinematic techniques and complex characterisation, Andrew Stanton’s Wall•E is a breathtaking journey into a distant future that is in turns dystopian and wondrous, mechanised and emphatically human. Following plucky little Wall•E, a clean-up robot who has been tidying the Earth’s masses of junk for over seven centuries, stopping only to watch old musicals and dance, to collect little trinkets and curiosities for his humble droid home, the film sees the cuboid companion bot’s world turned upside down with the arrival of the enigmatic and alluring Eve, a probe from outer space with a penchant for blasting things and the social skills of a...well.... robot. The adventure that ensues as a result of their meeting is a boy-meets-girl tale as old as time reworked and reimagined for a time entirely out of mind, a sonorous spectacle of searing humanity crystallised in robots whose greatest quest becomes the depths of one another, and a damning indictment of the laziness and blinkered unawareness that we have already begun to become tacitly complicit in as a race who values convenience over experience and fetishistic consumption over feeling.

Taking inspiration from the silent era’s greats, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, whilst also drawing heavily on the space-age worlds envisioned by Kubrick, Clarke, Asimov, and Lucas, Stanton and the team at Pixar have succeeded in one of the most difficult tasks in animation - they have created something truly timeless. The animation is beautiful but highly stylised so as to render the increased rendering capacities of the future irrelevant to the stylistic brilliance of the film, whilst in the minimalist yet incredibly expressive characters of Wall•E and Eve they have produced two characters with that deeply embedded pathos and contrapuntal comic propensity that immortalised Chaplin and his peers. The innocence of the characters and the complete lack of malice or meanness in the comedy they arouse is refreshing in an age of gross-out and over-the-top antics for cheap laughs, showing instead that a return to a simpler age in cinema is in fact the best way to propel the medium forwards and fight the tide. Slapstick moments are played delicately for maximum impact, whilst the limited physicality and vocal expressions of Wall•E and Eve provoke much more subtle sequences between the pair. Wall•E showing Eve his hat-tipping dance for the first time is one of many potent examples, wherein his child-like brio and her destructive glee coalesce to forge the foundations of their relationship and our relationship with that pairing - it’s so effortlessly executed and simple, yet it is riotously funny and achieves so much on a characteristic and emotional level.

Thomas Newman’s score is just as steeped in cinematic lineage as the characters and the visuals of the film, capturing that specific expressive mode of early silent films wherein the score was *pun intended* instrumental to the communication of feeling and purpose in each scene - there are no ‘wob-wob’ vacuums of noise to be found, and where little moments of beautiful songs such as ‘La Vie En Rose’ burst through they are elevated by the surrounding orchestration. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Newman does for Wall•E what Kubrick did with Strauss for A Space Odyssey, which is to redefine what we recognise as ‘space music’. The whole sound design of the film in general is remarkable in fact, with the few small vocal expressions attributed to the leading robots running the gamut of emotions and inflections, the last piece in the emotional puzzle being those profoundly expressive eyes they have - Wall•E’s slanted teardrop eyes reflecting a whole galaxy in them, Eve’s LED panel lighting up and dimming, sinking and expanding in syncopated rhythm with her mechanical heart.

Not only is Wall•E one of the greatest achievements in 21st century animation, a veritable cave of cinematic wonders whose layers peel away on each return only to reveal yet greater hidden depths, but it is also a monolithic testament to pure cinema. What do I mean by pure cinema? I mean visual storytelling, emotive characterisation and unique directorial vision. I mean showing an audience what you’re trying to say and trusting them to receive it and decode it, not clubbing them over the head with exposition and convoluted dialogue. I mean that unique form of art that brings together the subtleties of a painting, the emotional ebb and flow of a great symphony, the raw emotional power of the theatre, and the revelatory, philosophic inquisition of great literature. 

Andrew Stanton here achieves all of that, and the result is the greatest silent film since City Lights, one of the greatest films of all time.

Love - and life - endures.

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