You must see Wall-E!
After 13 years of producing hit after hit, I’ve learned to trust Pixar to deliver gold. To date, they haven’t made a single bad film (not even Cars, which for some reason seemed to attract a comparatively heavy amount of criticism from certain circles), and I think it’s safe to say that whatever magic formula they have tucked away over in Emeryville works.
I still wasn’t expecting their latest film, Wall-E, to be as good as it is, though. For me, it’s the best film I’ve seen this year… which, admittedly, isn’t a particularly high accolade when you consider that the only other 2008 release I’ve seen so far is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (not counting films made earlier but released in the UK in 2008 like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and The Orphanage). However, I’d go so far as to say that this is the best film I’ve seen since The Incredibles in 2004: the last film to which I awarded the coveted “10/10” rating.
In comparison with warmer fare like last year’s Ratatouille, Wall-E is a rather sombre affair, something it shares with director Andrew Stanton’s previous film, Finding Nemo. The subject matter is unusually grim for Pixar: in the distant future, humankind has ruined Earth, turning it into a smouldering wreck of garbage and pollution. No long inhabitable, the luckier humans boarded a giant spacecraft and took off into the ether to wait until the clean-up of the planet has been completed and it is once more inhabitable. Alas, as time has passed, it has become increasingly clear that it will never be cleaned up, and the humans aboard the spacecraft, who, several generations down the line, have evolved into overweight, tiny-boned, borderline retarded bags of flesh, have all but forgotten about Earth. The only form of life that now remains on earth is a robot named Wall-E, tasked with cleaning up the planet - a monotonous task of collecting and compacting garbage which he has been performing non-stop for centuries, and centuries, and centuries.
I think a film like Wall-E is the perfect example of what makes Pixar’s output so different from, and so much better than, that of their competitor, DreamWorks. Whereas DreamWorks’ animated features are usually based around a one-note joke (Bee Movie, anyone?) or the latest celebrity actor they’ve snared to do a voice over (look - a talking fish who looks and sounds exactly like Will Smith!), or an endless cavalcade of sub-Family Guy pop culture references, boogers and farts (the Shrek franchise), Pixar builds their films around solid characterisation, with the rest flowing naturally. The last thing Wall-E is about is famous voices; actually, for a good two-thirds of the film, there is no dialogue whatsoever. Given that Wall-E can only make a few primitive speech sounds (which are provided by veteran sound designer Ben Burtt), and his only interactions are with a silent cricket and a fellow robot, EVE, whose vocal range is even more limited than his, his emotions have to be conveyed entirely through pantomime and the expressions made by his eyes.
There’s a lot of talk of Wall-E being 2008’s first contender for Best Picture as next year’s Oscars. That’s right, Best Picture, not Best Animated Feature. If an animated film can actually win the most prestigious of the Academy Awards, then perhaps it will finally break the long-held stigma against the medium.