Aside: weekend morning showings at Toronto’s AMC downtown are the balls. $6 for pre-noon shows, featuring comfortable new theatres and digital projection. Plus, you get to put your own butter on the popcorn. This is a responsibility few have the shoulders for. WARNING: with great power comes … great stomach disturbances, so easy there, lardass!
Anyway. This film gives itself some enormous challenges to overcome. There is the issue of emotional connection with a robot protagonist – it’s hard to feel an attachment to a bleeping box. This is overcome on one hand with graceful minimalism – Wall-E’s head is basically a set of binoculars, and expression is expressed by the angle at which the set is bent, without any recourse to the usual bendiness used by animators. On the other hand, deft and swift characterization gives Wall-E a distinct, endearing personality: the lonely garbage processor who can’t help but start his own collection of idiosyncratic garbage.
The second massive challenge is the lack of dialogue in the film’s first 45 minutes or so. This is only an apparent challenge, given that most films rely on wall-to-wall dialogue (oh shit accidental pun there jiminy jillickers), yet film did just fine with none at all for its first 30 years or so, and certainly some of my favourite films have very little dialogue at all (I’m thinking of you, 2001). Nonetheless, the achievement is worth mentioning, as Pixar puts on a goddamned clinic on how to tell a story visually, with nary a narrator in sight. The power of animation allows for something we might call smooth density. There’s a lot of information and entertainment packed into this film, an amount that with live action filmmaking would undoubtedly require vigorous editing, resulting in a jarring, cutty film. But this is all smooth camera moves, visual beauty, and precision timing, comic and otherwise. Things are not so distinctive once the humans show up, but the first act of this film is one of overwhelming emotional power.
The beauty is not all visual – I was particularly impressed by the sound design. It’s an analog wonderland of squelchy synths and expressive vocoder effects that put R2-D2 to shame.
Pixar has a not unblemished but nonetheless impressive record of making actual family films, which is to say films viewable without eye-rolling by the entire family, adults included. In Wall-E, they add a couple of challenges, which they surmount so handily they wind up looking like strengths. And the film transmits a critical yet positive message (you know, for the kids). This is one of their best, and easily one of the best films of the summer.