Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wall-E and the babies in space

Welcome to the future: the earth is a big pile of garbage. When Al Gore makes this dire warning, whining like Mr. Timbertoes turned into a real boy, your eyes glaze over with boredom. Director Andrew Staunton's CG animated film doesn't tell you. It shows you. No preaching, no elbowing you in the ribs with a message. Just visuals. Here's the earth, folks, 700 years in the future. We've consumed ourselves to death. Your eyes, whether you like it or not, fill with tears.

The hot bot plot: Sometime in the future, an evil corporation called Buy-N-Large (as opposed to say, Engulf and Devour) fills the earth with the crap from the ass end of the production cycle. Mankind leaves the planet on a giant starliner for a five-year cruise. Trash-compactor bots ("WALL-E" units, natch) stay behind to clean up the planet. But humanity doesn't return. 700 years later, only one Wall-E unit still functions; it's still cleaning up. He's been doing the job so long that he's developed self-consciousness and a sense of artistry — making towering arcology sculpture out of his trash-compacted cubes.

Humanity periodically sends probes to earth to see if anything’s growing, in which case, us naked apes return. In 2710, a probe arrives, an EVE unit, pregnant with symbolism. She’s all curvy and white like an iPod. Wall-E is boxy. Fembot and guybot find each other. Then Eve finds something growing in Wall-E’s refrigerator. And, faster than you can say "Break into ACT II," the excitement begins.

Back up in space, humanity (its every need met by bots) has turned into big babies floating on anti-grav barcaloungers. Eve and Wall-E return to the mamma ship. They immediately smash a hole in the starliner and watch as the helpless screaming blobs of protoplasm are sucked into …

Well, no. Even a toaster can guess where the story goes, but that’s not the point. Ulysses goes home. Papillion escapes from jail. Romeo and Juliet kiss and die. Yeah, yeah. That’s not the damn point.

Staunton tells the story with silent movie rhythms, riffs ripped off from Keaton, Chaplin and the rest. The first third has no dialogue, the rest has little. Chuck Jones used to bitch that most animation was “illustrated radio” — nothing but talk, talk, talk accompanied by redundant visuals. Close your eyes and you still get everything — but not with WALL-E. Illustrated radio it ain’t.

The pictures tell the story. Who needs words?

The section on the ruined earth is haunting. Not a Blade Runner vibe — more like the awesome banality of Idiocracy, minus the idiots.

After the poignant beginning, the film kicks into start-and-stop action comedy once the bots land on the starship.

B-N-L's starliner has the look-and-feel of Star Trek and 2001 filtered through a PlaySkool toymaker’s sensibility and the design vocabulary of McDonald’s and Kwik-E-Mart. Curvy, sterile white walls accented by screaming primary colors; hologram signs full of happy faces and blobby letters, endlessly selling you shit. The banality of evil? That’s been done.

The evil of banality?

“Wall-E” nails it.

Beautifully and hilariously.

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