Sunday, 3 August 2008

Film Review: WALL•E

You’ve got to hand it to Disney.

Not content with releasing a film that blatantly insults 90 percent of their customer base, they’ve also crafted a movie that warns about the dangers of consumerism while constantly trying to shift merchandise to under-10s.

Truly their balls are to be admired, if not their hypocrisy.

WALL•E is set in 2805 with Earth in a bit of a pickle. We learn that by 2105, humans had fucked the planet up so badly that the entire population was evacuated so that a clean-up operation could be launched. Humans were ushered aboard a fleet of outer-space cruise ships by Buy N Large – the global corporation who run every facility on Earth, including government – where all conveniences and amusements are provided. Back on Earth a crew of Johnny 5 lookalike robots called Waste Allocation Load Lifters – Earth Class (WALL•E), were charged with the task of returning the planet to a liveable condition.

By 2805, Earth is in such a dire state that what was intended to be a five-year hiatus has now stretched to seven centuries, leaving only one WALL•E unit still operational. Due to the extended period of activation, he’s become sentient. So while he continues to diligently turn rubbish into neat cubes he also collects useful stuff like discarded WALL•E parts and a plant seedling, which he replants in an old boot. To wile away his rather lonely existence he watches a VHS of 1969 musical Hello Dolly obsessively.

A sleek modern Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (EVE) robot shows up, sent by the cruise ship Axiom to search for signs of life on Earth. Despite looking like a cross between an iPod and an egg, WALL•E falls in love with her upon first sight; unsurprising really given that his only company for the last 700 years has been a cockroach.

Discovering the plant, EVE enters a state of hibernation and heads back to the Axiom, with the smitten WALL•E not far behind. Aboard the Axiom we get a look at what humankind has become – corpulent, lazy slobs, who ride along in hoverchairs (centuries of reduced gravity have caused the human skeleton to become weaker and smaller), gazing at personal video screens that serve up all their entertainment and communication needs. They eat continually, sucking food from plastic cups through straws, while being barraged by adverts urging them to buy and eat more (“Consume again soon,” a cheery voice calls out). They are, in short, the denizens who right now are wheezing their gargantuan asses around Disney World.

EVE attempts to present the plant to the Axiom’s captain, Captain McCrea (voiced expertly by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin), as proof that Earth is actually inhabitable but finds it has been stolen. It turns out that a few of robots aboard the Axiom don’t fancy allowing humans to become independent of them again and are prepared to sabotage a journey back to Earth. While being chased around the ship by security bots, EVE learns of WALL•E’s feelings for her and soon begins to feel the same way. McCrea, meanwhile, becomes quite fascinated with the idea of returning to Earth and battles with his robotic co-pilot Auto (voiced by Sigourney Weaver) for control of the ship.

Of course, this being a Disney film, WALL•E, EVE and McCrea win out and the Axiom returns to Earth, with the captain promising the other humans farms, hoe-downs and presumably inbreeding too.

If the second-half of the film sounds trite and hackneyed, it’s because it is. But a weak finish isn’t WALL•E’s biggest problem; not since 2004’s Crash has a film so brutally beaten its audience over the head with its message.

We get it. Our ecosystem is fragile and needs to be protected, our species pollutes the Earth wantonly, and advertising and consumerism have become insidious and out of control. These are fine, noble messages, but the irony of a branding-obsessed, merchandise-spewing goliath telling us this is not so much delicious as sickening. Maybe Disney are concerned that people are becoming too fat to squeeze onto their rollercoasters.

And, besides, the film’s message is largely confused by the ending. It’s unclear how these slovenly, pudgy, near-boneless blobs would actually thrive on Earth, let alone be able to rebuild civilisation.

Which is all a real shame because the audacious, dialogue-free opening third is a spellbinding, truly one-of-a-kind passage. While the character WALL•E is a masterclass in non-verbal communication, conducted with all the expertise, wit and precision that you expect from Pixar.

But if I want to watch an hour-and-a-half of environmental propaganda starring a loveable, harmless robot, I’ll stick to An Inconvenient Truth, thanks.

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