Movie Review: Fifteen years later, I’m not sure Disney Pixar Studios has made a movie nearly as insightful, colorful, and ambitious as WALL-E. As an allegory for corporate greed and environmental neglect, the film operates on such a concise and straightforward manner – Pixar’s strongest thematic statement in their catalogue.
Whenever I have the Pixar discussion with someone about the great works of the studio, I somehow always forget WALL-E. Perhaps it’s because this movie came out at an odd time of my childhood – for reference, I was eight when this movie hit theaters, I was just starting the inevitable Star Wars and Spider-Man phases that would last until this very day. But maybe it’s because WALL-E feels so unlike anything Pixar had done before it – or since.
Which explains why WALL-E got a Criterion release a few months back, and why I finally had the time to pop it into the player and give it a spin and see how it played today. Not that it’s surprising to report back with this testament, but the movie still stands as one of Pixar’s crowning achievements and an obvious inflection point for the studio that pushed animation boundaries for over two decades.
By the time of WALL-E’s release, Pixar had essentially dominated every realm of animated storytelling since the brand hit with Toy Story 13 years prior, but telling a necessary story solely through the style and animation techniques and largely without voicework felt like uninhabited territory that I’m not sure has been met since quite like this.
WALL-E follows the title character through an extraordinary tale of helping the planet and steering clear of the practices that could lead to dangerous outcomes down the road. For nearly 700 years, WALL-E has been left to try to clean up an uninhabitable Earth caused by rampant consumerism, corporate greed, and environmental neglect. WALL-E has lived life by himself as humans were transported away on large starships designed to keep them lazily floating along for years on end.
This changes for WALL-E when an egg-shaped robot EVE arrives to scan for possible signs of life. They become companions as each finds the idiosyncrasies of one another quite strange, but also unique and endearing. Eventually, EVE goes into standby mode and is taken back by the mothership, which WALL-E manages to tag along on in an exhilarating adventure.
I’ve always thought of WALL-E as one of Pixar’s most ambitious projects, but one I wasn’t sure how much I’d like to return to in the future. But after watching it again thanks to the pristine re-release from Criterion, I certainly get why it still feels like a landmark piece of filmmaking for the studio.
If anything, WALL-E feels incredibly prescient about the way in which we interact with our planet with the intention of sustaining it for future generations. Earth is presented as a desolate wasteland, and WALL-E isn’t afraid to purposefully show the possible negatives of future human involvement if we keep going the way we’re going.
And those are some pretty powerful and adventurous ideas for a studio largely concerned with making movies palatable for children, and unassuming enough for parents to show their children. WALL-E feels like the last attempt for the studio to make a grand, important statement that actually rings true without feeling preachy or over the top.
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Visually, WALL-E is easily the crown jewel for Pixar. I’ve always admired the camera angles in the movie, as if the goal was to duplicate what actual camerawork would be like for a movie like this if done in live action. The wide shots are incredible and quite beautiful (or sad, taking in the context), and the design of outer space is marvelous.
And the movie doesn’t work if WALL-E and EVE aren’t able to emote effectively. The opening 30-40 minutes is done in near-silent film technique, which is certainly a step in a new direction for Pixar. It passes with flying colors as this serves as one of the most ambitious ideas Pixar has ever had.
The sound and the score play hand-in-hand as each add to the simultaneously dense emotions of dread and wonder – two emotions not easy to pull of in spite of each other. This particular mix of the film on disc was astounding as each section of the movie felt like its own, given that WALL-E has some significant shifts in narrative throughout.
I’d always thought the use of live humans felt odd in a Pixar movie, but this was the first time that I thought I could wrap my head around it. Intentionality is clear: displaying human interests as a sole reason the Earth turns out the way it does, but it’s always felt jarring to see it in a computer-generated world.
Even with that small point of emphasis (not even really a nitpick, might have to give it another spin to see if it fully pulls together next time), WALL-E still rips. Prior to the release of Elemental, I quickly put forth a list of the Pixar movies ranked in my estimation, but I placed WALL-E way too low on that. My bad! Will adjust accordingly, because WALL-E really is one of the best Pixar movies, but I’m sure you didn’t need me to tell you that.
WALL-E is available to rent and own on VOD (as well as physically from The Criterion Collection)
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WALL-E Movie Cast and Credits
Ben Burtt as WALL-E
Elissa Knight as EVE
Jeff Garlin as Captain
Fred Willard as Shelby Forthright
John Ratzenberger as John
Director: Andrew Stanton
Editor: Stephen Schaffer
Composer: Thomas Newman
WALL-E on Letterboxd
WALL-E on IMDb