Wall-E is the latest feature-length creation from the animation powerhouse Disney/Pixar. Most people, whether they are in the process of raising children or not, are familiar with the works of this merged company. The history of the company dates back to the mid-1980s, when Disney animator John Lasseter left that company to join up with the Lucas Films special effects team. In 1986, Steve Jobs purchased the group and named the new company Pixar. Over the next decade, Pixar created many award-nominated shorts and countless commercials and logos. In 1995, they shook the world of feature animation by releasing the first full-length computer-animated feature film Toy Story (in partnership with Disney). In 2005, Disney purchased Pixar Animation Studios, and the team has been creating feature-length computer-animated films ever since.
Since the release of Toy Story 13 years ago, the company has created more hits than misses in an impressive catalogue of films. My personal favourites include the touching Finding Nemo (2003), A Bug’s Life (1998), and the imaginative Monsters, INC (2001). What makes these movies so interesting to watch for children and parents alike is the complete universe created by the team at Disney/Pixar. We learn about the world of the ocean from the perspective of a tiny clown fish, where a current of water can be used as a major highway and where life beyond the reef seems enormous and frightening. The world is presented from the point of view of the character whether he or she is a fish, an ant, or a robot. Special features on the extended Disney DVD for A Bug’s Life show us footage of the animators playing around like bugs outside their office buildings, attempting to fully understand the life they are representing in animation. The animators and storywriters create a vision of life that we may not have considered before. The rich and technically incredible visual environment crafted is just one part of the worlds that are created. They draw us in with story and moral, with humor and emotion.
We have come to expect quality films from Disney/Pixar because it seems that they rarely disappoint. The most popular animated films of the past ten years, in terms of box-office revenue, have come from either Disney or Disney/Pixar. The high expectations we have for their projects make their continued successes all the more surprising. Disney/Pixar’s success with their newest picture, Wall-E, comes from the risks they take in storytelling and content, as well as the extremely rich and textured world created for us. They create an environment on Earth 700 years in the future, where garbage has taken over the entire planet. All that remains of humanity are the commercial products that have been produced. Wall-E is a mechanical garbage processing machine that has been left by the “Buy N Large” (BnL) Corporation to clean up the mess that made the planet unlivable.
One of the biggest surprises for me in the theater was the discovery that much of the film played out in silence. Wall-E does not speak for a great portion of the film and only learns a few words and phrases as the film progresses. The parallel story of the humans who have taken up residence on luxury spaceships does use spoken words, but this is ultimately Wall-E’s story. He performs his duties day in and day out, all the while collecting things he finds interesting. It is his collection that gives him a personality that we become attached to. He has a video that he loves to watch (the classic Hello Dolly! that any parent or adult in attendance might recognize), as well as a song he likes to listen to, and these texts help him realize what he wants from his life. Disney/Pixar took a substantial risk in creating a film around a character that does not speak. It is a credit to their ability to compel us with the story and visual environment that the film is an entertaining success.
Without ever seeming preachy or moralizing, writer-director Andrew Stanton jabs at some of the social problems we face in the world today. The problems of pollution are the most obvious (as the human race have boarded luxury spaceships while the BnL Corporation deals with the pollution situation on the ground). The BnL Corporation is a thinly veiled criticism of large chain stores like Wal-Mart. The film also touches on some of the issues surrounding obesity: in 700 years, people have evolved to the point where they cannot walk and are stuck in hover chairs.
Stanton presents questions about what makes life worth living and what constitutes a human experience. The nearly silent character of Wall-E displays more humanity than the people stuck aboard a ship with a computerized simulated version of life (they swing virtual golf clubs and carry out all conversations via computer screens built into their chairs and mounted inches from their faces). It is through Wall-E’s curiosity and fascination with the relics of our past (a rubik’s cube, an i-pod and a spork are among his interesting discoveries) that we experience his world and are given the chance to reflect on our own.