Wall-e of text

Unsurprisingly, WALL-E was quite good. I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as The Incredibles or Ratatouille, but hey — we can’t all be Brad Bird. Besides, making comparative evaluations of Pixar films has become an exercise in splitting hairs; the movie was easily right up there with Monsters Inc. and Toy Story 2, which is to say so much better than anything anyone else is animating these days as to exist upon an entirely different plateau.

Only Pixar would have the courage to ask, “What if R2-D2 had starred in I Am Legend instead of Will Smith?” Their answer: A surprisingly melancholy film with a palpable — painful, even — sense of loneliness. Well, that’s the first 30 minutes, anyway. Eventually the setting and tone change considerably and WALL-E becomes more of your standard cartoon; a bit of a letdown after the earth sequences, which do an amazing job of creating a sensation of isolation without the bleakness of something like Legend or Cast Away. And I’m quite alright with the underlying theme of the movie, which not-so-gently chides American excess and our willingness (or perhaps I should say “contentedness”) to let the truly good things in life slip past unnoticed as we become wrapped up in the petty and the self-indulgent. Still, the tenor of the “homilies in space” portions of the movie lack the somber austerity of its opening moments, though they certainly never descend to the level of obnoxious idiocy like the Madagascar 2 trailer that ran before the flick. (I’m pretty sure Pixar lets Dreamworks attach its previews to their films simply for the sake of sabotaging the competition.) Happily, the payoff for the entire movie is the greatest credits sequence I’ve ever seen, which depicts the reclamation of a ruined world in a series of stylized illustrations that parallel the course of reconstruction with the evolution of art.

Honestly, the only real disappointment with the movie is that Pixar has licensed WALL-E action figures. I mean, sure, it makes sense; the robots, like the titular Cars of a couple summers past, look to be designed in part for the sake of selling toys. (Or maybe iPods, in EVE’s case.) And they sure weren’t raking in ancillary dough with Ratatouille. But doesn’t churning out needless plastic items sold strictly to line a corporation’s coffers at the expense of sheep-like consumers pretty much fly in the face of everything the movie’s about? Ah, well… I suppose integrity and sincerity can only be expected to go so far, even with the likes of Pixar.

But you know what was truly great? The opening short, which I think was called Presto. It was five minutes of physical cartoon comedy channeling the best of classic Warner Bros. and somehow out-Bugs-ing the finest Bugs Bunny cartoons ever made. It lacked the emotional resonance of WALL-E, obviously, and didn’t bother with anything so mundane as “themes” or “subtext.” It was simply manic, inventive visual slapstick. But of the two, it was Presto that left me choked up — not because it was a touching tale or anything dumb like that, but because I realized that I had just experienced something I didn’t even know I missed. For just a few minutes, someone had resurrected a dead artform and breathed new life into it, and when it ended I recognized the rarity of what I had just witnessed. It was as though a dodo bird had emerged from extinction and nuzzled up against me, affectionately, before laying down and expiring to mark the final passing of its kind.

34 thoughts on “Wall-e of text

  1. Your comment about the Dodo bird is probably the most depressing image I’ve ever imagined.

    Yes, even sadder than some of the moments in Wall-E.

  2. Your comments about the Presto short pretty much sum up my feelings as well, and way better than I could have. Shame we’ll probably never see Loony-Tunes-esque antics of this caliber ever again. Won’t stop WB from trying to milk the franchise anyway, though.

  3. There is always hope. If there wasn’t, we would not have had Presto in the first place.

    And thanks for making me feel guilty for wanting a transforming Wall-E action figure, though I didn’t know they were making them in the first place (though, it should have been obvious). Maybe I’ll try and find a papercraft something online that I can put together.

  4. Our theater didn’t run a Madagascar 2 trailer in front Wall-E, though everything they did run one for looked equally horrendous, especially ESPECIALLY Beverley Hills Chilhauhau. It did seem, though, that Disney made the rather underhanded move of trying to pass off that insipid talking animal feature, Bolt, as a Pixar movie by placing the trailer after the studio logo.

  5. “doesn’t churning out needless plastic items sold strictly to line a corporation’s coffers at the expense of sheep-like consumers pretty much fly in the face of everything the movie’s about?”

    Nope. Even WALL-E has his own favourite toys and gadgets. His lightbulb, his Rubik’s Cube, and his movies. It might poke fun at the occasional Arkansas retailer, but it’s not advocating living off the grid, either.

  6. psyael-

    er, no. at least, it’s not that black and white. first of all, basically everything he had was either practical (lightbulb), timelessly entertaining (rubiks cube) or a historical relic (television/VCR/iPod/etc). second, it was all found items. the movie is anti-consumerism and pro-environmentalism, and as he did not either purchase the item or create more garbage, this does not harm the message. In the purest sense, he is exemplifying the “reuse” portion of the environmentalist triangle.

    buying a toy, throwing the packaging in the garbage, playing with it for seven minutes and then eventually putting it in the garbage and buying some other toy when the latest fad comes out is more what the movie is speaking against.

  7. And they sure weren’t raking in ancillary dough with Ratatouille.

    Hey, I bought my girlfriend a Ratatouille coloring book.

  8. mercatfat: First of all, Stanton has done many interviews saying he wasn’t trying to create a preachy movie, he hates being preached to in theatres, and that it was just a means to an end.

    Secondly, you weren’t looking close enough. Among Wall-E’s other possessions was the dinosaur from Toy Story and I think some other Disney characters (I saw it on opening day and sat too close to the screen, but I vaguely remember seeing Pooh.)

  9. regardless of what he says, it doesn’t make the movie come off as any less of a sort of “An Inconvenient Truth” that the whole family can enjoy. for those of use who went to the movie expecting Short Circuit 3 (ie, knowing as close to nothing about the movie or the people behind it), that is the way it appears to be interpreted by just about anyone i’ve talked to or read writings of.

    also, he’s not consuming. he’s collecting fragments of the past (the historical value part i mentioned), which given pixar’s nature will naturally include often-ironic self-referentialism. Read: *DONG*.

  10. The live-action version of The Grinch was absolutely TERRIBLE with the crass merchandising flying in the face of the film’s ostensible message.

  11. Your account of the opening half-hour is fascinating. It flies against the industry tenet that animated films need to keep children stimulated at all times or they will lose interest. It supports my idea that since Pixar are so revered and so far ahead of the competition they can get away with pretty much anything.

  12. A lot of what Pixar does flies against industry wisdom. They’re possibly the only studio that consistently treats film with any respect — all the more remarkable given that they deal entirely in a medium so marginalized in American as animation.

  13. “They’re possibly the only studio that consistently treats film with any respect”

    Too true. And they made me care about their robot characters more than a lot of other studios can make me care about their human ones.

  14. Local cable market doesn’t get Boomerang, and you cannot find Looney Toons on any other networks, at any time of day, anymore. I REALLY miss being able to just watch some dang cartoons, you know? I’ll probably wait for this movie to come out on DVD but am definitely looking forward to the 5 minute short now. ;D

  15. I think what made the movie even more touching was the way it showed souch a touching portrait of lonliness, the yearning for reciprocal love, and ultimately finding that in someone else.


    C’mon, now, anyone that got misty-eyed when it looked like WALL-E got his memory wiped, raise your hand.

    (my hand is raised)

    ** END SPOILER **

    And perfectly summed up Presto. For the five or so minutes it played, I was 7 years old again, watching a funny cartoon over a bowl of cereal and laughing hysterically.

  16. Somebody summed up the comedy short as “Tex Avery plays Portal” and I think that’s about right.

    As for the previous debate, I don’t think the message was too serious as far as the consumer part goes. Who seriously has an anti-consumer attitude anyway? Most everyone has a “it’s my money, I can spend it as I like” attitude, except perhaps certain towns in California and Canada. You can buy yourself shiny toys while still being environmentally conscious. It’s what I do.

    Pixar movies always have that slight jab at modern society that both entertains adults and instantly dates the movie. Walt Disney made timeless cartoons because there’s something hilarious about Goofy falling off a mountain in any decade. The Governator Hummer in Cars or the obvious Wal-Mart jabs in WALLE or numerous aspects of Toy Story won’t be relevant in 60 years.

    To his credit, Brad Bird’s films have mostly avoided this.

  17. My wife and I now make carrot eating gestures at one another whenever we want something. True story.

  18. that’s a lot of pixar-praising! their jabs at walmart seemed hollow considering how they’re owned by disney, and stand to make an assload from dvd and toysales from walmart alone.

    i do have to say i will always be a devoted fan, only because their cafeteria is all kinds of awesome.

  19. “Pixar movies always have that slight jab at modern society that both entertains adults and instantly dates the movie. Walt Disney made timeless cartoons because there’s something hilarious about Goofy falling off a mountain in any decade. The Governator Hummer in Cars or the obvious Wal-Mart jabs in WALLE or numerous aspects of Toy Story won’t be relevant in 60 years.”

    I don’t think this is a bad thing, considering that animation – of any form – is seen in the US as being irrelevant now. Pixar have done a huge amount for animation in the US, mostly because by this point adults know that if they watch a Pixar film they’ll likely enjoy it, even though it’s a ‘kid’s’ film.

  20. I disagree, but not too strongly. I liked Wall-E, the movie IS charming, so is Wall-E himself, but I kind of feel they squandered an opportunity to make something more substantial. Forgetting the second half of the movie for a second, the first half I felt didn’t quite establish the right tone. “A surprisingly melancholy film with a palpable — painful, even — sense of loneliness” is what they might’ve been aiming at, but I got the sense the movie was expressing more a nostalgia for old toys and shit like that than for a world that was once “alive and lovely”. It’s like it’s a film that doesn’t want to to be about what it’s about, if you know what I mean, and I didn’t know if I was enjoying myself or not. But I did, mostly. But I also feel the movie focuses much too much on its not that interesting, hokey “junk bot gets hot girl bot” and “triumphant fat guy” themes, than it does on the stuff that really IS interesting. The one lady whom Wall-E accidentally unplugs and is suddenly filled with wonder at the world around her is more interesting than almost the whole rest of the movie, which quickly devolves into a manic robot chase sequence — which is not “bad”, per se, but, still, it kind of left with a feeling of, Yeah, really? That’s what you want me to see? As for that short, I just found it extremely tiresome and NOT FUNNY! Much more “Tiny Toons” than “Looney Toons”.

  21. Wow patrick, is there no love in that broken heart of yours. I found WALL•E had pace issues (like a Terry Gilliam film) and felt a little exhausted after it was over (like a Terry Gilliam film), but overall I enjoyed it.

    It wasn’t life changing to me like Finding Nemo, or full of ohs and ahs like Ratatouille or The Incredibles—and I certainly would’ve asked for a little more polish and cohesiveness from the second half of the picture—but Pixar has produced a film who’s main character has the potential to be remembered with the likes of Charlie Chaplin as one of the great Hollywood characters.

    Also, Presto, come on Patrick (yes, I’m still talking to you). Tiny Toons’ sole existence was based on a series of one-liners, mild slapstick humor, and the introduction of pop-culture references. (which would plague future WB cartoons like Animaniacs and Freakazoid)

    Presto, on the other hand, follows the Looney Tunes’ model closely: (with respect towards it, not merely imitating it) simple character models, simple story premise with a problem, a series of struggles with lots of laughs and hilarious/ingenious character poses, and a solution that would either end in a bang or a bang and then a nice fizzle. To that respect, Presto is a good cartoon. But what makes it a great and successful cartoon is that it enhances the Looney Toons model and revives it to a level that even Chuck Jones couldn’t do.

    And I just realized how long my post is, so I’ll leave now. Sorry about that Mr. Parish.

  22. Haha, well, like I said, I think the movie’s charming, and Wall-E is endearing with his big sad eyes and all; it was just very by-the-numbers in spite of its wildly sophisticated presentation. Presto, too, in my opinion — and Looney Tunes was waayyy more than just broad physical humor; and as a demonstration of that sort of thing, does Presto really compare to, say, Long-Haired Hare (where Bugs torments a pompous opera singer)? I’m just remarkin’; to each his own, and all that, and I freely admit to being a pretty “low-fi” kind of guy.

  23. Oh man, Long-Haired Hare, that’s a pretty good contender. I’m stumped, because I like Presto for its brilliant humor, its poses, and its clarity, but I always love Long-Haired Hare for it’s pace and tension.

    I may have been too general about my description of Looney Tunes and you’ve got a point about WALL•E’s by-the-numbers presentation. Nevertheless, I enjoyed WALL•E (along with Kung Fu Panda, just to get that out of the way) and will probably enjoy it even more when the other studios release their full-length animation films for the 08-09 season.

    In short, I fail.

  24. “I always *loved Long-Haired Hare for *its pace”

    Well, at least I live up to my name. =)

  25. Cool, thanks for the papercraft. I think I’ll try to compile a list of them and see which one I’ll be able to do. I like them, but I’m not that good at them yet.

  26. As I’ve said in the forum, I think the main theme of the movie is complacency – to me, Patrick’s declaration that he would have liked to see the movie explore the woman who wakes up out of her comfortable existence more a bit odd because that’s what the entire film was doing. The environmental and anti-consumerist elements are subservient to that theme, so I disagree that there’s a contradiction between the film and the business. If it makes people think about the issues there, the movie’s done its job (other than of course being a great film).

  27. I think Pixar actually missed a pretty big marketing opportunity with Rattatouile: They didn’t sell any food! Movie theaters are really overpriced food stores, so they would have loved to sell high-quality snacks in association with this movie. Specifically, I think they should have sold a bento box of food that appears in the movie, each labeled with a number or letter. Each time the movie reaches a part where somebody onscreen eats something, it should have had a caption appear, “Now eat piece A”. Later on, “piece B”, and so on. That would have made a lot more sense to the audience than putting abstract swirls onscreen to abstractly describe flavor. When those came up, I thought I was watching placeholder shots in an incomplete movie.

    Since they missed that great chance at marketing, I’m not surprised they’re making toys about Wall-E, even at the expense of the movie’s message.

  28. @Vega:

    Oddly enough, Disney and Pixar were working to bring a French-produced Ratatouille-branded wine to Costco stores last year. Sad to say, though, it was called off after vigorous complaints from the California Wine Institute. If memory serves, using Remy on the bottle or making it a tie-in in the labels violated standards in labeling that restrict the use of cartoon characters– basically to try and avoid enticing underage drinking.

  29. Watching Presto in the theater left me with this idea:

    After the muy bravura, amped up ending sequence in Monsters, Inc. (which has gotta be a direct homage to the Tex Avery school of cartoons) the Pixar guys took a bunch of time off, played a crap-load of Portal, and realized that they could just keep running with this.

    Did anyone else think Portal? Was it just me?

  30. All the moaning about the supposed disconnect between the movie’s message and merchandise would have more meaning to me if I could actually manage to FIND any of these offending action figures that get mentioned. Granted, I haven’t been looking very hard, but there were no Wall-E toys at K-mart or Target when I went down their toy aisles, and I even spent the weekend at Disneyland and found only copies of the Wall-E video game in the gift shops! I just want a little Wall-E to sit on my monitor!

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