Almost Wordless Wednesday: Pixar's WALL-E


There has never been a robotic character to grace the silver screen with such a range of emotion and feeling and heroism and playfulness as WALL-E. (Perhaps only R2-D2 comes close.) WALL-E is an almost wordless movie. It has been suggested that perhaps Pixar bit off a bit more than it could chew trying to make a movie around a robot that only uttered it's own name and that of another robot in the movie. It has been suggested than since The Incredibles, Pixar had lost its way and had forgotten how to deliver as first Cars and then Ratatouille had not quite achieved the high emotional story standards Pixar had become known for; and with a movie centered around a robot that didn't speak and which had been abandoned to clean up an Earth covered in trash, it has been suggested that once mighty Pixar had succumbed to corporate mediocrity.


All I can say to those who doubted is that Pixar is not only back, but Pixar is stronger than ever with it's most magical, most human, and most meaningful movie yet.

My Almost Wordless Wednesday Posts are usually quite far from wordless, and this one is no exception. But if you are interested in an education on how to wordlessly convey emotion, I encourage you to go see WALL-E. The creative minds of Pixar have found a way to adapt Beauty and the Beast to the robotic mechanical realm and create a love story between machines more humorous than Number 5 and Ally Sheedy from Short Circuit and more emotional than the Tin Man's (or Star Trek's Data's) longing to have a heart and to feel. And they do it with a cast of robotic characters that are integral to the story, but which serve as comic relief nonetheless, and even a cockroach that actually gets the biggest gasps and laughs of all. Look for the scene with the Twinkie.


But what really makes WALL-E a great movie are the layers of subtext that are always there for the adult minds in the audience, and that subconsciously will really speak to the children.

The first layer is the nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. With the musical flourish of al Sprach Zarathustra and the automatic pilot "One-Eye" whose single-red light in the center of the tradtional Captain's Wheel, one can not help but recall a memory of HAL. WALL-E is a love story between two robots first and foremost. But WALL-E is also a cautionary tale of human excess and turning over too much control to those same robots designed to make our lives easier by performing society's less desirable tasks. The ultimate irony is that WALL-E, EVE, and assorted other robotic characters remain true and come to mankind's heroic rescue, often at great personal risk and cost.


The second layer of the cautionary tale is subtle. Not one word of dialogue is given over to its conveyance. But in the lighting and the sets and the background and the scenery of WALL-E is the omnipresent waste of human society. Our trash, our pollution, our destruction of everything green and alive is a message that is communicated loudly and clearly to the audience. In the bleak Earth that the brown WALL-E inhabits, accompanied only by the brown cockroach sidekick; WALL-E, and other robots like him, have toiled for over 700 years to clean up human waste. And it's only after 700 years have passed that the first fragile green plant is discovered. That green plant, and the symbolism of WALL-E's love interest, the robot EVE are universally understood, even without any words.

That the brilliant creative minds of Pixar can fashion an animated film mostly devoid of words, show tremendous humor and cause laugh-out-loud reactions in the audience, and at the same time give a nod to 2001 so clearly you can see in your mind's eye the Neanderthals brandishing their weapons of bone while you're laughing at robotic hijinks AND at the same time completely understand that life is precious and needs to be protected--that the Earth's pollution needs to be cleaned up--help make WALL-E nothing less than a profound message to adults and children alike.

WALL-E is pure movie magic, and Oscar will take notice come February.


Thanks for reading.

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Linda said...

This is a very good review of a movie I have read in a looooong time. Great Job and I will certainly go see this movie! Thank You!

July 02, 2008 9:35 AM
Jennifer Robin said...

Your pictures and review make me think of a movie we saw years back called "Short Circuit" with a robot named Johnny 5. Did you ever see that? I felt Johnny 5 had developed the range of emotion and playfulness you describe in Wall-E, and having enjoyed that movie so much, I look forward to seeing this one.

July 02, 2008 10:56 AM Admin said...

Great review! It was a great movie and I can already see the Oscar ballot printed with the name "WALL-E".

July 02, 2008 5:47 PM
The Bushie said...

I saw this preview and it's a movie I really do want to see. It looks like it's going to be non overly serious which is refreshing.

July 03, 2008 2:23 AM
Henson Ray said...

I can't wait to see this movie...probably will go this weekend...I don't care what critics say about Pixar...they are definitely not losing their touch...never have...because they know how to tell a story, and get us involved with the characters. Their movies have heart and imagination and incredible creativity. Thanks for the thorough dissection.

July 03, 2008 7:27 AM
tashabud said...

Wow! You really gave this movie a glowing review. My daughter and her boyfriend went to see it last weekend, and she came home speaking highly, dreamily, of this movie.

After reading your post, the more I want to go to see it now too.

July 03, 2008 9:31 AM
crazy working mom said...

Oh, I want to see this one too! :)

July 03, 2008 10:51 PM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

All, it's Sunday and I'm catching up on comments for the week. This is in response to your comment on my post: Almost Wordless Wednesday: Pixar's WALL-E.

Linda--WOW, thank you so much for the kind words, the superlative, and the validation.

Jennifer--I actually refer to Short Circuit in my review. Johnny 5 was hilarious. The difference between Johnny 5 and WALL-E though is that WALL-E can't talk. Johnny 5 had clever dialog for his humor. WALL-E just has expression and gestures--which is far more difficult to do--especially to animate. Let me know what you think of WALL-E after you see it.

Sizzlingpopcorn--Thanks Jean! No doubt...You know, there's always the possibility of Best Picture as well--Beauty and the Beast got a nomination...WALL-E is better.

the bushie--it's dramatic, but very lighthearted. Make sure you stop back at MTMD and let me know what you thought about the movie after you see it.

Henson--You are so right! Have you seen WALL-E yet? I'm anxious to know what you think, especially considering our recent discussion on animated films.

tashabud--Yeah, well, when I love something, I glow. Kind of like ET's Heartlight. ;) Let me know what you think after you see WALL-E!

Crazy Working Mom--You won't be disappointed. Why don't you go see it today? The night is young. Do it now.


July 06, 2008 6:11 PM
tashabud said...

My husband and I just got back from watching WALL-E. I like it a lot, mainly for its love story. In my opinion, the environmental, obesity, and the recolonization aspects of the story are only secondary to the love story and humor going on. Nevertheless, they added depth and substance to the story, which also served as important messages to us, humans, to conserve, to be environmentally conscious, and to stay active. I’m probably way off on the movie’s message, but this my analysis of it anyway.

July 07, 2008 4:55 AM
Henson Ray said...

I LOVED IT!!! From the very opening shots of the film, with the "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" song, I was immensely touched by the message and the heart of this movie. And, of course, the first time I saw Wall-E, so isolated on this planet and yet so full of spirit and optimism...I think I had a lump through this entire movie. No words to describe it...absolutely beautiful. I'm tearing up just thinking about it now. Brilliant!

July 07, 2008 7:20 AM
Matthew S. Urdan said...

Tasha, your analysis is right on. I'm glad you found WALL-E so satisfying.

Henson, you must be a long lost brother of mine or something. It seems that the movie hit us in quite similar ways. It is an amazing work that will stand the test of time.


July 08, 2008 8:07 PM
Arkwife said...

Awesome movie. It's been a long time since I've sat in a cinema and truly felt like a child again. I giggled and gasped all the way through.

I fully agree with you that Pixar has outdone themselves with the release of WALL-E. Its a clear example of a picture being worth a thousand words.

Something that caught my attention is the subtle undertones of the human race always wanting things to be bigger and better. It's clearly portrayed through billboards and garbage all brandishing the BnL (Buy n Large) logo. The entire planet is run by this one, gigantic company, who ultimately has the biggest hand in destroying the planet.

It makes one wonder how many people and their small enterprises were also crushed underfoot by big business like the garbage that finally made Earth uninhabitable.

July 18, 2008 11:20 AM

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