Friday, August 22, 2008

WALL-E: Lonely, he's Mr. Lonely

For the first 20 minutes or so of the movie WALL-E, there is absolutely no dialogue, because the only characters onscreen are a trash compactor robot and his pet cockroach, sole remaining inhabitants on a garbage-smothered, uninhabitable Earth. Those first 20 minutes are in my opinion the best part of the film, showcasing Pixar's wonderful creativity, originality, and ability to transform animation into art. Because WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) doesn't chatter away like a typical cartoon character, communicating only through R2-D2-like sounds and adorably expressive robot eyes, the viewer's attention is riveted to his every motion, and the relative silence emphasizes the absolute desolation and isolation he is in. WALL-E's loneliness is so acute that it's easy to forget he's just a rusted bucket of bolts, so to speak, and easy to empathize with him. As he goes about his daily routine of compacting rubbish into neat cubes, which is what he was programmed to do, the futility of it is achingly melancholic. And when he watches his video tape of Hello, Dolly! and starts longing for companionship, it pretty damn near breaks one's heart.

Then one day, a rocket lands on the planet surface and leaves a probe called
EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), and WALL-E falls in love. However, once EVE finds the evidence of vegetation she was programmed to find (her "directive"), she shuts down and is retrieved by the rocket on which she came. Turns out the rocket was sent from the ship Axiom, where what is left of the human race has been living for the past 700 years since their exodus from Earth. WALL-E pursues EVE to the Axiom, and what ensues turns the whole ship topsy-turvy, in more ways than one.

Once the humans are introduced into the movie, I started to lose my enchantment with the movie. Their talking broke the spell cast by the first 20 minutes, and it wasn't just the sound of speaking that distracted me, it was the substandard quality of the script. The writing lacks the humor and vitality which marked previous Pixar efforts. As far as the plot and message of the movie go, they aren't delivered as masterfully as last year's delightful Ratatouille. WALL-E shows
the consequences of abusing the environment, the dangers of human reliance on technology, the importance of relationships over "directives", and the universal concepts of loneliness and love, but somehow it all gets lost in the confusion WALL-E and EVE trigger onboard the Axiom. And the talking humans don't help matters either.

I actally wouldn't have minded if the entire movie had been dialogue-free. I don't know if the beauty of those first 20 minutes would have held up for an entire full-length feature, but I think Pixar could have pulled it off. As the saying goes, talk is cheap, and in WALL-E's case, it cheapened the dramatic value and artistic merit of the film.

Overall, WALL-E was ok, but light years away from the Pixar masterpiece Finding Nemo. It's still worth seeing though, if only for those lovely first 20 minutes, and as a bonus, the traditional Pixar short shown before the main feature (this year it's a terrific old-school slapstick comedy called

Sidebar: While I was waiting in line to buy tickets for Wall-E at the Promenade box office, an old man was in front of me, a Chinese newspaper tucked under his arm. My first thought was, who sends their grandfather to stand in line to buy movie tickets?? But when it was his turn at the counter, he signed the log sheet for senior citizens (in San Juan they get free entrance to all movies up to 5:00PM), claimed his ticket, then shuffled into the cinema by himself. I felt a pang of pity, and my second thought was, who lets their grandfather watch a movie alone?? It was a holiday, so his children didn't have work, his grandchildren didn't have classes. I realize some people like watching movies by themselves, but I know most elderly people enjoy the company of their family, so I found it really sad, and I remembered the grandfather as I was watching WALL-E. Solitude and loneliness may not be the same thing, but they're not always mutually exclusive. Sigh.


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