Tuesday, July 1, 2008

He, Robot

Watching the mindless, recycled kids movie trailers that played before Wall-E, I was reminded of just how lucky we are to have Pixar in the world. Within the first five minutes of its latest commercial and critical smash, the studio effortlessly reinforces one of its key strengths: being completely unafraid to take risks.

Practically avant-garde in tone, Wall-E is centered around the titular robot who's spent 700 years on an abandoned Earth, compacting trash, listening to old musicals, and longing for connection. Another of Pixar's fortes, creating elaborate worlds, is on full display: the "camera" focus and zoom shots of the photorealistic, desolate surroundings in the opening scenes suggest documentary rather than animation, proving that they continue to reign supreme in technology, as well as storytelling.

There's also the small matter of the film being nearly dialogue-free. That the audience is able to so quickly emotionally resonate with a non-talking, cartoon robot would be amazing, if it weren't so rooted in Pixar's origins of bringing the inanimate to life (namely, with its early, groundbreaking short, Luxo Jr.). As it stands, the device serves simply as a means to tell an original story - another risk that pays off.

Things get complicated for Wall-E when, after mysteriously encountering another robot with whom he can finally share, his path takes unexpected turns. To add much more about the plot may be unnecessary, except to say that it involves (mostly) unforced commentary on corporate control, consumerism, and environmentalism, offering a surprisingly scathing - if hopeful - social critique, for a family film.

Ultimately, though, Wall-E, like most great (and many Disney) stories, is about love and purpose. If Disney's heyday was achieved by using new techniques to tell quality stories that audiences of all ages and types responded to, Pixar, given its track record, has clearly taken up the mantle. Wall-E, among the studio's best, is no exception.

Grade: A-

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