Pixar’s perfect

Review by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre August 13, 2008

WALL-E
Written and Directed by Andrew Stanton
Pixar Animation/ Walt Disney
(Original review in mixed Filipino and English)

Whatever the praise, I’m not sure if people will easily like WALL-E, especially if another hyperactive comedic adventure is expected like recent animated features from Hollywood. The last half of WALL-E is standard Disney family entertainment, which by itself is reason to see the movie – but it’s not the reason why it’s great. The first half of the movie is an absolute masterpiece.

Like a Charlie Chaplin pantomime or a classic romance from the days of Cary Grant, WALL-E is an emotional, almost melancholic homage to many things cinema. And like its Japanese-studio counterparts who take anime seriously, Pixar takes storytelling back to its original, basic roots – visual storytelling.

Make sure to watch this movie in cinemas; I don’t think small screens will do this justice. Half of the show is silent (take note: silent) – so don’t spoil other people’s experience with its incredible sound design. Also, that means don’t go in the theaters late, there’s a funny short animation called Presto! right before WALL-E screens.

WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth class) is the last functioning robot trash compactor on Earth, 700 years after humans filled the planet with garbage and left it for space. Day in and day out he collects garbage, alone except a pet cockroach he keeps as companion. At nighttime he watches a warped VHS tape of the musical Hello, Dolly!, hoping one day he will hold another being’s hands like the dancers in the show do. That’s 30 silent minutes of robot loneliness.

One day a giant spaceship lands, and out comes EVE (or Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) -a sleek shiny new robot – to search for signs that Earth can be habitable again. In other words, it’s love at first electronic sight for WALL-E – but the catch is catching how WALL-E catches EVE’s attention. How their romance develops is truly touching, but the ways by which the emotions are evoked are truly magical. (Emotional robots – yes, it’s magical.) As for the rest of the movie – which involves lazy, obese humans, uncontrolled consumerism and lots of crazy robots – that’s your standard Disney. The real gem of the movie is the heartwarming romance between WALL-E and EVE.

While the romance is a throwback to classic black-and-white Hollywood, WALL-E the movie makes obvious references to movie science fiction – from Short Circuit to Tron to 2001: A Space Odyssey. A small bit of trivia is that the sound of WALL-E is made by the same person who designed the sound in Star Wars. That’s why WALL-E the robot sounds like R2D2. Stay during the end credits, the images feature the evolution of art from cave-paintings to classical to renaissance to modernist and finally the digital age.

The last work of animation that moved me emotionally was Isao Takahata’s heartbreaking Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka), possibly one of the most depressing films of all time (Pixar’s Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. also come close). Fireflies initially wasn’t made for kids, although its story centered on two young siblings struggling to survive World War II. In a way this Hollywood animation approaches that milestone – it is foremost a work of genuine art, and then a piece of entertainment after.

Some people will complain that WALL-E is too slow. However that is the point of the movie: to make humans pause and look at the big picture again – quit the rush, because there’s no second chance at opportunity.

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