#596) WALL-E (2008)

#596) WALL-E (2008)

OR “Robot-son Crusoe”

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Written by Stanton & Jim Reardon. Story by Stanton & Pete Docter.

Class of 2021

The Plot: In the early 2800s, Earth has become a massive garbage dump, abandoned by humans 700 years earlier. While a series of robots were sent to clean up the mess in anticipation of humanity’s return, only one has survived, a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth class – or WALL-E for short (voiced by Ben Burtt). WALL-E spends his days collecting junk he finds interesting and rewatching his VHS copy of “Hello, Dolly!”. Upon the arrival of an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator – EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight), WALL-E is immediately smitten. Once EVE discovers a single seedling in the dirt, she returns to the humans’ starliner the Axiom, with WALL-E secretly tagging along. From there we get a warning about the negative effects of consumerism and our impact on the environment, mixed with a surprisingly touching and optimistic love story.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “[a] triumph even by Pixar standards”, praising the film’s “skillful animation” and “imaginative set design”.

But Does It Really?: Ever since seeing this film in the theater in 2008, I have considered “WALL-E” one of the best movies ever made, animated or otherwise. At a time when Pixar was creatively infallible, “WALL-E” pushed the envelope by being cautionary without condemning, sweet without being over-sentimental, and funny without relying on crudity or pop-culture. I agree with the AFI’s summation of “WALL-E”, which declared this film proof that “the film medium’s only true boundaries are the human imagination.” Although I would have selected Stanton’s earlier Pixar hit “Finding Nemo” to make the Registry first, “WALL-E” is a near-perfect movie and no less deserving of its NFR induction.

Shout Outs: References throughout to “2001“, plus an allusion to “Alien” (Sigourney Weaver voices a Mother-esque computer). And keep your eyes peeled for a clip from “A Corner in Wheat“, as well as a few nods to “Toy Story“.

Everybody Gets One: Co-screenwriter Jim Reardon is best known for helming over 30 episodes of “The Simpsons” during its early years. Reardon left “The Simpsons” in the early 2000s to work on “WALL-E”, and has since co-written “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Zootopia”. Pixar employee Elissa Knight often voiced character temp tracks to help animators before the official voice-actor had been recorded, but Andrew Stanton loved her temp track for EVE so much that she became the final voice for the character. Knight still works for Pixar as a producer’s assistant.

Wow, That’s Dated: Among WALL-E’s possessions are such mid-2000s technology as the iPod mini and the Big Mouth Billy Bass. Speaking of the mid-2000s: President Forthright uses the phrase “stay the course”, used by then-President George W. Bush in reference to the war in Iraq.

Seriously, Oscars?: A critical and box office hit upon release, “WALL-E” received six Academy Award nominations, tying “Beauty and the Beast” for the most nods by an animated film. “WALL-E” took home Best Animated Feature as expected, and lost its other five nominations to “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Milk”, and fellow NFR inductee “The Dark Knight”. The exclusion of both “WALL-E” and “Dark Knight” from Best Picture is rumored to have inspired the expansion of that category from five nominees to ten the following year.

Other notes 

  • Andrew Stanton first came up with “WALL-E” during a lunch meeting in 1994 that also spawned the creations of “A Bug’s Life”, “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo”. Stanton and Pete Docter worked on the script for two months, but hit a roadblock and moved on to other projects. Following the success of “Finding Nemo” in 2003, Stanton returned to “WALL-E”, adding the love story and its environmental message. The project was green-lit shortly thereafter.
  • While the film’s concerns for our environment definitely rang true in 2008 (this was two years after “An Inconvenient Truth” after all), these cries definitely stick out more in a COVID-era viewing. We are so royally screwed.
  • As much as I love movie musicals, I have tried and failed twice in my life to watch “Hello, Dolly!” all the way through. You’d think something with Gene Kelly at the helm wouldn’t be so flat and boring, yet here we are. The film’s archival inclusion within “WALL-E” is as close to the Registry as that movie will ever get. And for the record, “Dolly” composer Jerry Herman loved the use of his songs in “WALL-E”.
  • After finishing his work on the “Star Wars” prequels, legendary sound designer Ben Burtt vowed to never work on another movie with robots, but changed his mind after being inspired by Stanton’s pitch of “WALL-E”. Burtt used the same sound design techniques he had implemented 30 years earlier for R2-D2 (vocal intonation processed through a synthesizer), as well as many in-house items from Disney’s sound department. He even bought a 1950s electrical generator on eBay to get the right sound for WALL-E’s movements.
  • WALL-E kinda looks like Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit” – though Andrew Stanton has always stated that this was coincidental.
  • “WALL-E” showcases some of the best visual storytelling in film since the silent era. The first 30 minutes or so are near-flawless, with every movement aiding in developing the story and/or characters, with sparse dialogue supporting these visuals. Each composition is so clean and precise, you get the sense that no stone was left unturned in the filmmaking process.
  • Originally WALL-E was to encounter a race of gelatinous aliens in space, but this evolved into the equally gelatinous humans of the final film. I fully acknowledge the irony of me sitting in a reclining chair watching a screen showing a movie of people sitting in reclining chairs watching their screens.
  • Is it me, or does the inside of the Axiom look a lot like the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport?
  • John Ratzenberger makes his trademark Pixar appearance, this time as the aptly named John. It’s nice to see that Bostonian accents survive centuries of human evolution in space. Also lending their voice to one of the humans is comedian Kathy Najimy as Mary. That story again: Peggy Hill’s on the NFR.
  • It wouldn’t be a Pixar movie without a reference to A113, the CalArts classroom from which many top animators got their education. “WALL-E” marks the first time A113 is a major plot point, rather than a throwaway easter egg.
  • Man do I miss Fred Willard. Even as the inept Buy-n-Large CEO/President of Earth he’s just so endearing.
  • Original “SNL” cast member Laraine Newman provides several “additional voices” in the film (some sources credit her as the “Beauty-Bot”). I was once in a car with her, but that’s another story.
  • Easily my favorite scene in the movie (as it is for many others) is WALL-E and EVE dancing in space. It follows the logic of old movie musicals: when you feel so much that you can’t express it in words, dance. These two robots harmoniously moving through space is just beautiful, though the “define dancing” moment at the end is a bit on the nose.
  • Also technically making their only NFR appearance: MacInTalk, Apple’s text-to-speech program, as the voice of AUTO. The acting unions must have been pissed about that one.
  • Honestly, I didn’t write a lot of notes for this one. I’ve seen “WALL-E” several times over the years, and every time I’m just so entranced by it. Much like the film’s “irrational love defeats life’s programming” thesis, my attempts to deconstruct this film are always upended by my appreciation for its artistry.
  • Cool, Peter Gabriel! The former Genesis frontman was apparently a big fan of “Finding Nemo”, and co-wrote and performs the song “Down to Earth” during this film’s closing credits. The song is paired with animation covering the rehabilitation of Earth after test audiences were concerned that the humans of “WALL-E” would destroy the planet again.
  • As always, the Pixar credits are filled with nuggets of trivia, including “Production Babies”, who are now all in their awkward teen years. Stick around at the very end when WALL-E updates Luxo Jr. with a CFL bulb.

Legacy 

  • “WALL-E” was a success right from the start, earning a heap of critical praise and year-end trophies, ultimately becoming the 5th highest grossing film of the year at the U.S. box office. In the ensuing years, “WALL-E” routinely shows up on lists of the best films of the 21st century (so far).
  • Andrew Stanton followed up “WALL-E” with his first live-action film: 2012’s “John Carter”; one of the most expensive movies ever made, and one of the biggest box office bombs. Stanton returned to animation with 2016’s “Finding Dory”, and continues to serve as part of Pixar’s Senior Creative Team.
  • Like many a Pixar film before it, “WALL-E” doesn’t so much get parodied as it does get referenced in other Pixar movies. That being said, I did track down this amusing parody from 2010 that combines “WALL-E” with “The Terminator“. A bit sophomoric, but it’s “Mad”, what did you expect?
  • You don’t see too much “WALL-E” representation throughout the Disney synergy machine. WALL-E is produced more often as a figurine than a playable action figure, but he does occasionally show up as an interactive animatronic character in the theme parks.
  • When NASA launched “Mars Cube One” (a flyby of the red planet) in 2018, the two nano-spacecraft were nicknamed “WALL-E” and “EVE” as a tribute to the film. After losing contact with the two craft in January 2019, NASA officially ended the mission. Like their namesakes, “WALL-E” and “EVE” are still floating out in space somewhere.

Prior Viewing: “WALL-E” was preceded in its theatrical run by the short “Presto” by Doug Sweetland. With its quick pace and magic-inspired lunacy, “Presto” is like “Magical Maestro“, minus the racial insensitivity.

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