Sunday, July 6, 2008

Redemption in an Unlikely Place

Ok, read this in your best Jerry Seinfeld voice: "Who's the ad genius that came up with this one? A children's movie that has almost no dialogue, no characters that are kids, and is chocked full of pop culture references from 30 years ago - you gotta be kidding me!"

Such is the story of WALL-E, the newest offering from digital animation powerhouse Pixar. WALL-E is the post-apocalyptic tale of a robot with a singular directive, to take the mounds of trash that people have left behind and compress it into blocks that can be neatly stacked. Wall-E, while carrying out this purpose, has become somewhat of a collector, sifting through the refuse in search of something interesting, something meaningful. His collection, a melange of the flotsam and jetsam of everyday people's lives brings Wall-E joy, but after watching Hollywood musicals over and over, he knows that the one thing he needs to add to his collection is something he can never find in a trash pile: love. Enter Eve, a probe sent by humans looking for signs of life on the dormant earth. And this, friends, is how the greatest love story between two robots at the end of the world begins.

I won't go into detail about the rest of the story. I'll leave you to explore that yourselves. Suffice it to say that the previews and trailers give no hints of the rest of WALL-E. There are plenty of wonderful surprises inside.

I've held off reviewing this for a week because I didn't want to overstate how much I liked WALL-E. I wanted it to settle, thinking that my affection might fade, that I might come back to earth as it were. No such luck. This is simply the best movie, animated or otherwise (and make no mistake, there are long stretches of WALL-E where you forget you are watching a cartoon) that I have seen in years. I left the theater with the same feeling of elation that I had with ALMOST FAMOUS, the same goofy smile that I wore with THE RETURN OF THE KING, the same sense of beauty that I experienced with LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.

This movie really shouldn't work. There are immense periods of silence that echo 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, yet the children in the audience (and me as well) were enraptured with the beauty of it. The underlying message of the film, that humans have been lazy and wasteful, should have come across as heavy-handed, but instead the people are lovely and ultimately redeemed by someone who looks more like Johnny 5 than Luke Skywalker.

There are no famous voices in the film, no celebrities to adorn the poster. The appeal and the draw come from the knowledge that there is no risk with Pixar. There is no chance that the movie could not be good. When is the last time that a studio had that much cache with moviegoers? In fact, it should work against them, they should have nowhere to go but down, but with WALL-E, Pixar doesn't only meet expectations, but exceeds them in spades.

It's animated, so it probably won't get much consideration from the Academy for best picture, but I don't feel risky guaranteeing that it will be the best movie you'll see this year.

5 plants in boots out of 5.


the hamster said...

john - the wife and i have big plans to see this on thursday or friday. i'll review with you then.

confession: i totally dig voiceless music. classical. jazz. even some of that big band swing stuff from the '40's. this here explosions in the sky band. love it all. need more of it. as alison krauss said, "you say it best, when you say nothing at all."

(interesting chorus from a very wordy little country number there.)

all that to say, i think i might like a film when less dialogue. let the cinematography and "acting" carry the viewer away.

i will never forget the first time i watched THE GRADUATE, and there was that unbelievably great scene where dustin hoffman goes to meet anne bancroft at the hotel and he bumbles around the lobby with those forlorn faces and droopy eyes and i rewound that part and watched it over and over and over again and realized - dang, that's what good acting looks like.

okay, so that's a bit off the topic of WALL-E, but, still, i just thought of it and all.

will get back to you soon.

ps. i cried like a baby at the end of ALMOST FAMOUS. not even sure why. i feel like a total goob for even confessing that in public.

John Barber said...

Dude, I cry in the opening credits of ALMOST FAMOUS. I tear up looking at the box. Don't sweat it.