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Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Produced by: Jim Morris

Written by: Andrew Stanton
Distributor: Buena Vista


     I already know what will be the toughest thing about writing this review: not making my opinion of WALL-E sound overwhelmingly negative. This may come across as a peculiar conflict for a film-critic to have, but it is one that I assume many who share my view of the movie have recently grappled with and will continue to do so over the next few weeks.

     Here’s the honest truth of the matter: WALL-E is Pixar’s worst film to date, but a deserving one nonetheless. The problem I’m having in expressing this lies in the fact that everything wonderful about the movie is expected of a Pixar release. The prized animation studio, which has never before delivered a stinker and probably never will, is known for its rich visual-creations, clever characters, and fast-paced plots. These three elements are all readily available in WALL-E—they are essentially the reasons that I am recommending the movie—but it would’ve come as a tremendous shock had they not been present. Accordingly, it seems passé for me to praise them in my analysis of the film. I’ve already done so before by lauding their presence in better Pixar productions, namely last summer’s delightful Ratatouille.

     Realizing that it would be cliché to tout how beautiful the images of WALL-E are or how cute its central two robot characters can seem, what I’m left with is a couple of glaringly negative points to make about the film. Rather than try to renew my years-long praise of Pixar in a more original style of wording, I’m simply going to discuss my qualms with the film in rote fashion. If my criticisms sound overly harsh, then so be it. After all, you were going to see WALL-E no matter what I had to say about the film.

     As WALL-E opens, the viewer learns that the titular protagonist (voiced sparingly by Ben Burrt) is one of several small robots that were put on a now-uninhabitable Earth to clean up the enormous waste that people left behind in an attempt to someday allow for repopulation. Isolated on a giant globe full of nothing but trash, WALL-E dreams of sharing an emotional connection with another being as he watches a cloudy VHS copy of the happiness-filled Hello, Dolly!. The connector he longs for arrives in the form of EVE (Elissa Knight), a higher-tech robot who has been sent to Earth to find vegetation that would signal that the planet could be safely repopulated. WALL-E senses budding romance with EVE, only to be heartbroken when she shuts down automatically after discovering evidence of photosynthesis. WALL-E finds himself too committed to his new friend to let her go, though, and inadvertently follows her as she is extracted onto the space-ship which houses Earth’s former residents.

     WALL-E suffers from two main interrelated flaws: an overconfidence in its “silent-film”-structured first act and a lacking ability to engage the viewer’s emotions as its characters are introduced. The movie's opening scenes are nowhere near as good as they might sound on paper: as WALL-E and EVE meet each other and bond, the experience isn’t at all immersive. While undeniably inventive-looking and sort of adorable, the characters fail to earn the audience’s sympathy, which is detrimental to the picture’s power to involve. As briskly paced and well-edited as they may be, WALL-E’s first thirty minutes can't help but feel a bit tiresome.

     Worse than the initial boredom and emotional-disconnect that WALL-E’s introduction may provoke, however, is the scar that the passage leaves on the rest of the movie. When WALL-E is lifted into outer-space, the picture comes into its own, taking on wildly entertaining values in its exploration of a human society that has been living in a spaceship for seven-hundred years. (Especially amusing is the movie’s depiction of the fattening effect that owning futuristic movable personal couches and constantly living in funky-gravity has on people.) But still missing from the film is an emotional core that should’ve been built up in its beginning moments. WALL-E and EVE just aren’t naturally lovable characters—likely because they cannot talk—and writer/director Andrew Stanton fails to compensate for this. At its heart, WALL-E is an enduring love-story between the two robots and, because of this, the aforementioned flaws prove especially problematic for the movie on the whole.

     Also troubling is the amateurish political message-making that WALL-E’s plot invites Stanton to engage in. The movie never explicitly mentions a human cause for global climate-change, but more than simply implies one by depicting a hot-looking earth and irresponsible humans wasting resources in a spaceship above it. And if that weren’t enough: Fred Willard appears in real human-form—contradicting the CGI-look of everything else for no apparent reason—to play a once-powerful CEO that discusses Earth-repopulation on videotape in a manner that is intentionally-modeled after (and mocking of) the speeches of President Bush. Do Americans really need to be lectured by subtle leftist agendas in products as innocent as Pixar family-films?

     But enough with my complaining. WALL-E is undoubtedly a worthy family-film in the end: it looks great from an artistic standpoint, proves consistently involving for at least the latter 70 of its 103 minutes, and offers a highly original idea for an animated film (even if this doesn’t entirely pay off). Not to mention, as the spaceship’s captain, Jeff Garlin delivers some spirited, memorable voice-work. For all its flaws, WALL-E nonetheless represents time well spent beating this summer’s heat in an air-conditioned multiplex.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 6.27.2008

Screened on: 6.27.2008 at the AMC Burbank 16 in Burbank, CA.


WALL-E is rated G and runs 97 minutes.

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