September 27, 2008

Multi-Layered Story Pixar’s Best so Far


Nelson Mail movie reviewer David Manning sees some magic at play in Pixar's latest. -------------------- Wall-E

Starring Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard. Directed by Andrew Stanton. PG.

* * * * *

Despite the excellent pedigree of Disney-Pixar movies, this latest creation exceeds expectations, becoming a movie rarity that spurs reflection, stirs the heart and speaks to the future.

It's a love story, a futuristic cautionary tale, a rollicking sci- fi adventure and a satire on consumerism, all splendidly packaged into a story that entertains and visually enthrals.

For its initial half-hour, it daringly has almost no dialogue as it portrays a post-apocalyptic Earth and introduces its two main characters.

Earth has become an abandoned wasteland where human and plant life has ceased to exist. By 2775, all that's seemingly left is a robotic trash compactor, a solar-powered Waste Allocator Load Lifter - Earth class (Wall- E), which spends each day collecting and bundling junk into cubes and neatly stacking it into skyscraper trash pillars.

At night, Wall-E retires to a refuge from sandstorms, a place where he stores junk he finds of interest (for example, a Rubik's Cube or the box for a diamond ring, but not the ring) or spare parts he might need.

Wall-E - recalling both ET and R2-D2 (all three voiced by Ben Burtt) - is, however, more than just programmed artificial intelligence. Wall-E has feelings - mainly, he is alone, except for a cockroach companion, and lonely.

What he (as a hunter-gatherer masculinity is presumed) yearns for is what he sees on a movie tape he plays over and over again, scenes from the 1969 musical Hello Dolly!, especially one of Michael Crawford serenading Marianne McAndrew, their hands interlocked in love.

Shortly after Wall-E finds in an old fridge a solitary sprout of plant life, which, to him, is merely another unusual object he decides to keep in an old shoe, his life is changed forever with the arrival on Earth of Eve (Elissa Knight), an Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator.

A sleek, floating, white robotic probe that's also armed and dangerous, Eve has been sent to Earth from the gigantic cruise ship Axiom, whose five-year luxury space getaway has had to carry on for 700 years after Earth became uninhabitable.

With robots to service every need and the ship under an autopilot control called Auto (voice by Sigourney Weaver), the passengers and captain (Jeff Garlin) have to do nothing for themselves. Conveyed on mobile movers, they have become the ultimate couch potatoes - morbidly obese, unable to stand or walk, their waking lives devoted to consumption and indulgence. It's the idea of the remote control extended to its utmost and lunatic extreme.

Eve's discovery of Wall-E's plant triggers a directive sending her back to the cruiseship, with a smitten Wall-E, determined not to lose her, secretly accompanying her - setting the stage for perilous and madcap adventures aboard the ship and a struggle against the HAL- like Auto for control.

Director and co-writer Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) depicts a world in which rampant consumerism has resulted in a giant corporation, called Buy N Large, taking over the world, with Fred Willard as its presidential CEO, and supplying "everything you need to be happy".

If it hadn't been necessary to evacuate Earth, Buy N Large had planned an outlet mall for the moon. Meanwhile, Earth has become surrounded by a belt made up of satellite junk.

This satiric opening background setting and later the portrayal of life aboard the Axiom is balanced with slapstick humour, chases and narrow escapes, including scenes involving defective "rogue" robots escaping a repair shop and causing havoc aboard the ship.

In the midst of it all, the movie rhetorically asks whether people just want to sit and do nothing when their home, the world in which they live, is in trouble. Wall-E must be Al Gore's favourite film.

But the heart of the movie is the budding romance between endearing Wall-E and Eve - which provides a reminder of how emotionally expressive the eyes are, whether they be a pair of binoculars or electronic blue pixels on a black screen.

It's a tribute to the writers that this seemingly mismatched relationship becomes touchingly tender and affecting - the duo having more chemistry than many on-screen pairings of human actors.

Wall-E is the ninth, and best, movie to come from Pixar, following the two Toy Story films, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars and Ratatouille. It is, at least so far, its masterpiece in terms of inventive content, superb visual design and excellence in overall execution.

While it is certainly a wonderful family film with something to appeal to all age groups, it is, arguably, a movie much more for adults than young children. Like The Incredibles, it's a film adults can see and take youngsters with them if they wish, rather than seeing it because they're accompanying children.

And don't miss the Pixar cartoon Presto, about a magician, his rabbit, magical top hat and a carrot, at the start. It is as hilarious as Wall-E is extraordinary.


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