30 June 2008

Mooney at the Movies: WALL·E

"Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love?" (Disney/Pixar)


Starring the voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
Written and directed by Andrew Stanton

Animated films can do a lot of things. They can cause laughter, wonderment, and inspiration. In some rare cases, they do all three. But as many times as Pixar has scored that hat trick over the last 13 years, this is the first time that animation can be considered not only great film, but great art in any medium.

And that's precisely why this Pixar outing is so risky. They've done talking toys, monsters, fish, cars, and rats, but now Stanton (who directed Finding Nemo) is tackling robots, but without the talking. Yes, for the first half hour or so, this is as close to a silent movie as we'll probably ever get. Luckily, the character of WALL·E (that's Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class to be exact) is as delightful and cheery as Chaplin and Keaton.

In the smog-filled trash heap that the earth has become in the distant future (well, only 100 years), WALL·E collects and compacts trash, then stacks it in skyscraper-high piles. When he finds something that catches his eye (like a brassiere or lighter), he collects it in his ever-expanding, well-organized junk pile. And so day after day he follows his routine until the Mac-white angel known as EVE (that's Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator to be specific) lands on a mission to well, her name explains itself. When she's retrieved, it's up to WALL·E to win her back. And this is where WALL·E really takes off, no pun intended.

The gorgeous interstellar backgrounds that whir by as WALL·E and EVE make their way to Axiom, the Carnival Cruise-like ship holding Earth's population until it's declared inhabitable again, are absolutely breathtaking. Truly, no animation has been this completely perfect. Ever. I also don't think I've been as raptured in the story of a Pixar film than I was here. Previously, while the screenplays have snapped, crackled, and, popped, but you kinda knew where the stories were headed. Here, you're simply mesmerized.

And speaking of that screenplay, Andrew Stanton's got some points he'd like to make. Luckily, he doesn't use his fantastic story as simply a soapbox (sorry, Glenn Beck) for green issues and social commentary on the gluttonous road America is headed down. But even for a Disney film, his burning issues aren't glossed over. It's just the right mix of message and story.

There's not a thing about WALL·E that doesn't work. It's simply magnificent. Will it go down as Pixar's finest creation? Only time will tell, but for now it's hands down the best feature film of 2008 so far.

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