WALL•E: The Last Great "Silent" Film
I was more excited about the arrival of WALL•E than I have been about any movie in a very long time. WALL•E would be one of the last Pixar films with minimal Disney influence, promised to make us fall in love with a pair of robots, and, I hoped, would give the Pixar a chance to redeem itself from Cars (also known as “Doc Hollywood with less nudity and more automobiles”). Besides, the trailer for this post-apocalyptic G-rated adventure used part of the soundtrack from Brazil. What wasn’t there to love?
Unfortunately, last week, seeing WALL•E on opening day looked problematic. The annual Fog Creek summer party was on that Friday, plus most of the people I wanted to see the movie with were busy Friday night and gone for the weekend.
So I did what any sane person would do: I dragged my roommate and an unsuspecting intern to the 12:01 AM showing on what was, technically, Friday morning. After a few quick naps and a few quick Redbulls, we wobbled our way into Times Square, bought our tickets, and headed into the theater.
By the time we arrived—still a good twenty minutes before the show started—the theater was packed, and the audience already on the edge of their seats. Unsurprisingly, I saw very few children; the audience was composed almost entirely of twenty-somethings and a few thirty-somethings, many of whom were clearly diehard Pixar fans. That made me happy: seeing a movie with an enthusiastic crowd can add a tremendous amount to a movie.
(And a dead crowd can subtract. I saw the movie for a second time Sunday afternoon, and was…well, saddened by the audience’s silence. WALL•E’s start-up sound—the same as the Apple IIGS—spawned laughter and applause at the initial screening. The reaction from the audience the second time I saw it? Nothing. There were a half-dozen other jokes that the Sunday matinée’s audience simply failed to grok or find funny, leaving me the only one laughing in the theater.)
Finally, the movie began.
First, I have no idea how Pixar managed to slide the opening short—entitled Presto—past the Disney censors. The cartoon, though hilarious, steals liberally from the best of the maniacally violent Warner-Bros. cartoons of yesteryear. Although not worth the price of admission by itself (movie tickets in New York are up to $12), I definitely look forward to being able to add it to my DVD collection.
Finally, the main feature began. Would WALL•E live up to my overhyped expectations?
In my opinion, WALL•E is two movies. One of them truly is the best movie I’ve ever seen. The other is solid. Combined, it’s still an amazing piece, but I find myself wanting for what WALL•E could have been.
The first movie, which lasts for roughly forty minutes WALL•E, has virtually no dialog. One of the characters is a cockroach with no facial expressions. Another is a trash compactor with binoculars for a head. The third has no mechanism whatsoever for expressing emotions other than two pupil-less eyeballs that are always the same shade of blue. Yet, I was almost moved to tears. The emotions expressed were so beautiful, so pure, and so dire, that I can’t think of any way to describe it except as visual poetry. It is emotionally and visually exquisite, and devastating.
The second movie, which roughly corresponds with the latter half, has substantially more dialog, shallower emotions, and more plot. The haunting poetry of the first section devolves into more typical Disney fare. I still thought that this movie was enjoyable to watch and significantly higher-calibre than most movies I see, but it lacks the artistry and panache of the first half. To be honest, I felt cheated. WALL•E’s opening promised so much more. That the second half was merely above-average left me oddly disappointed.
For this reason, I find rating WALL•E painfully difficult. WALL•E could have been the last great silent film—and, for awhile, it was. I want this WALL•E to be divorced from any emotions I may I have about the work as a whole; I want to be able to point to it and say, “This is what movies should be.” But the actual movie simply does not maintain that bold vision throughout, and, unless you have a brutal taste for tragedy, the movie-within cannot stand by itself.
I did love the movie enough to see it again two days later—something I don’t think I’ve done since Aladdin—and I’ve recommended it heartily to family and friends. I just wish Pixar had had the courage to finish the movie with the same bold vision that they had for the first half.
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