Posts Tagged ‘auteurs’

Imitation of Life: WALL-E strikes a chord at the very heart of matters (***** out of 5; Grade: A)

July 22, 2008

Andrew Staunton has delivered the most bravura animated film this side of Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, proving once again that the genre (at least Stateside) is divided into two classes: Pixar, and everyone else. With this Staunton (Finding Nemo) claims his place alongside Bird (Ratatouille, the non-Pixar The Iron Giant) as the 2 auteurs of animation in North America.

What sets the Pixar brand aside is their adherence to the credo of Walt Disney himself: “you’re dead” if you aim “just for kids.” But Bird and Staunton are raising things to another level, to where parents are guaranteed a better time than their tiny tots.

WALL-E is a post-apocalyptic cautionary tale, an allegory of the self-destructiveness of mankind’s excessive – and growing – consumerism. The titular robot – looking like the bastard love child of E.T. and Short Circuit’s Johnny 5 – is a garbage compactor assigned to clean up the earth in preparation for the return of humans, who fled on a luxurious space cruise once the earth became overpolluted. But WALL-E seems to be the last of his kind (he utilizes the rusting carcasses of his dead colleagues for spare parts) and the job is clearly far from done. Mountains of neatly compacted garbage jostle for prominence against rotted husks of once-glorious skyscrapers – a simple and powerful visual allegory if ever there was one.

WALL-E is also a love story, and a more potent one you will rarely find in a mainstream movie. How can you fall in love with two characters falling in love while nary uttering a word? Chaplin did it, and WALL-E revels in such illustrious roots. The two leads are true flesh-and-blood characters, and you root for them, fear for them, and share enthusiastically in every heartbreak and triumph. That two virtual characters embody the significance of human touch is a testament to the power of the story.

Another gem is WALL-E’s fascination with ancient relics of human civilization – little things like toothbrushes become treasured items. An old VHS (the format isn’t throwaway) tape of Hello Dolly fascinates him, and it is then that we begin to understand that this little hunk of metal has become more human than humans.

WALL-E raises an interesting question: if mankind did eventually succeed in blowing itself to Kingdom come, what would an alien species think of us when they discover our uninhabited planet millennia in the future? Would they too be fascinated with the little quirks of our nature, the lush green fields of our earth and the deep blue of our seas, of our dances and ritualistic mating habits, at our capacity for love and good and understanding and life? Would they be in awe of all that, and ask themselves how something so good could have gone so terribly wrong?

Sometimes it helps to think outside the box – to look at the world through eyes unfettered by prejudices and weighty misconceptions and preoccupations (the eyes of a child, perhaps?) to boil down life to its essence. Such a view would provide us a mirror for our own foolishness and stubbornness, before that reflection becomes a very real, barren wasteland of broken dreams and wasted potential. WALL-E provides us the first necessary glimpses towards such a realization – without ever once being preachy or bogged down in melodrama – which is a testament to its power, its verve, and its vision.