An unexpected love story combined with a gentle reminder to care
... care about each other and about the planet ... combine in another
delightfully family-friendly computer-animated feature from Pixar
Studios and Walt Disney Pictures. Alan Silverman has this look at the
story of a robot named Wall-E.
The sparkling optimism of the 1969 movie musical Hello Dolly! makes a stark contrast to the Earth of 700 years in the future on which it echoes. People are long gone. All that's left are overgrown, decaying buildings and garbage. Lots and lots and lots of garbage, which is what the one remaining functioning robot is programmed to collect, compress and pile up in stacks that reach the sky.
WALL-E, an acronym for "Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth Class," is a yellow dumpster on Caterpillar treads with expressive video eyes on a stalk rising from his boxy body. After centuries of stacking the remains of civilization, he ... or it ... has also developed a curiosity and selects unique items for a special collection: a Rubik's cube, an egg-beater, a digital music player ... and, perhaps his most prized possession, a videotape of Hello Dolly!
Watching the couple on screen touches something deep in Wall-E's cyber-heart as he tries to match their hand-holding with his utilitarian claws that were designed for trash collecting, not tenderness.
Then one remarkable day, with a thunderous roar, a rocket drops down from the sky and out pops a sleek, shiny flying robot named "Eve" - for "Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator" - programmed to find out if life has returned to the wasted Earth. It is love at first sight for "Wall-E" who now must do whatever he can to keep from being alone anymore.
"My specific premise was 'irrational love defeats life's programming,' " says Andrew Stanton, who created the Pixar hit Finding Nemo. He is co-writer and director of Wall-E.
"I had two programmed characters fighting to figure out what life and the point of it is ... which is love ... and discovering what that meant," Stanton explains. "It took irrational acts of love to do that. We all have our habits, our routines, and our programmed things that we fall into to distract ourselves from really living. They are not necessarily bad or evil in and of themselves. It's just that we can use that as crutch to fill up our day and avoid the act of having relationships and contacting one another. We see it every day. We can all be in the same room and all be in our own little world; and it's easier and easier to do it."
There are more words in that comment than Stanton put in the entire first half of "Wall-E," but he maintains the film is full of dialog.
"To me it has dialog from frame one. It's just not the way you and I speak, but every little buzz and whirr and hum was planned and executed exactly to be a way so that it would convey a certain intention whenever Wall-E or Eve 'spoke,' " he says. "When I wrote the script for the movie, before we drew or executed anything, I had all the dialog written for each of the characters and I would bracket it so I knew exactly what their intentions were; so in my mind, it's full of dialog."
"A lot of the expressions for Wall-E and Eve are part of their sound effects," says Ben Burtt, who creates the "voice" of Wall-E; the Oscar-winning sound designer has previously given personality to, among other mechanical objects, "Star Wars" robot R2-D2.
"The trick in creating these illusions that machines are talking is always somehow finding the balance between the human aspect of it - that there's a person or some kind of character with a soul behind it - with the machine aspect," he says, "because you want to convince the audience that these are talking machines. There's a human input to it. You can start out by recording a word ... 'Wall-E' or 'ohhhh' ... and get as much performance into it as you can; but then that sound is taken into the computer and dissected.
"You can change the pitch, freeze or stretch vowels or consonants within a word and actually add another level of performance to it. So it's a balance between human performance and electronic processing," he explains.
Something "Wall-E" discovers becomes the key to humans returning home to restore the devastated planet; however, writer-director Stanton insists he was not making an animated "Inconvenient Truth."
"I did not have an ecological message. I knew I was dealing with elements that basically match it, but that was never what I was pushing. The last thing I want is to be preached to when I watch a movie," he says. "I didn't mind that I was touching similar elements because it is not necessarily a bad thing to be associated with; but it was all basically to say 'everything else is going to benefit if you pay attention to relationships.' "
Elissa Knight is the voice of Eve; and the "Wall-E" voice cast also features Jeff Garlin, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver and Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger. In a 'first' for a Pixar film, comic actor Fred Willard actually appears in the film as a human character, albeit on ancient videos. The musical score is by Thomas Newman.