Monday, July 14, 2008

DJG: I Was Floored with the First Half of WALL-E

WALL-E * * * * 1/2

Combine the personality, character and looks of R2-D2, Johnny 5 (AKA: Short Circuit) and E.T. (Oh, and a puppy!), and you've got yourself WALL-E, the latest collapsible cute and lovable hero to grace PIXAR's ever-impressive and expanding animated palette. He's a pint-sized, trash compacting robot who speaks volumes of emotion with binocular eyes and computer chipped heart. He is the last of his kind, an elite fleet of miniature trash picker-uppers designed to clean the act left behind by wasteful, mass-consuming, over-populating humans. Seven hundred years in the future has the Earth completely exhausted of all her natural resources and globally branded by a Big Brother-like mega corporation called BUY N LARGE (Clever and relevant, don’t you think?). Humans have tapped everything dry including green grass, trees, blue skies and ocean water. All there is to show for civilization is massive dust storms blowing through junk yard city skylines. Man now lives a new life in remote controlled comfort and automated spaceship accuracy known as AXIOM, a galaxy cruising paradise city. It’s a floating buffet where humans seem ala BORED and bombarded 24-7 by monitor -marquee-manipulations, cup cakes in a cup and reclined laziness. But, enough of the boring, ho-hum stupid HUMAN stuff...back to EARTH.

I wish Oscar dished out acting statues to animated characters. If so, little WALL-E might compact the cup cake and roll over it too. In reality, the first half of WALL-E had me wet with Best Picture drips. Several times I had to stop myself from verbalizing my emotions in the darkened theatre to a movie that was fairly non-verbal in its first hour. I honestly was sobbing buckets in silence as this little animated robot was massaging my heart. In fact, my eyes and mind both were very moist. In fact I want to vote for WALL-E during this November’s Presidential election. That first hour or so, WALL-E mesmerized me with his content little-big world of wonder, work and innocence. He was blissfully naive of the world that once was and now is. His lone friends in this wrecked world were a tiny cockroach, a collection of trashed treasures and a worn video tape of the classical musical, "Hello Dolly" that he played and interacted with daily. WALL-E was great at work, but he was also great at play as he studied the great art of simply "being". Because, he was basically the only being, I think it made life a little easier to BE and trash compacting was what he was destined to do. I envy that position of just “being” and utilizing your true talents and gifts. WALL-E has a childlike fascination and interest in the everyday stuff of the trash world he cubes into skyscrapers. He and his trusty cockroach friend pick and pluck trash collectibles for their lair. In relation, my mind hit rewind for simplistic days of playing janitor, analyzing with widened eyes every piece of trash I came across. I'd make a pile daily, just like WALL-E, filling my little box up and putting some junk in my trunk. Even today as I walk to the cubicle, I still stuff my pockets as I flirt the foundation of discards with my feet to fill up my own little lair of tossed treasure.

Amidst all the sporks, lighters, rubber duckies, Rubik's Cubes and hub caps, WALL-E one day finds something he'd never seen and something the Earth hadn't seen in a long while, a green sapling of a plant. A scoop of fascination had him place the plant in a boot to take home, very much in fashion with my Grandmother's recycling genius of Grandpa's flower pot work boots (Though, probably not a completely original Gibson family idea, it's now a movie-move that I can sense is about to get extremely and obnoxiously popular in months to follow, trading in any bit of true value and meaning for dollars and marketing cents.). Through all of the trash collecting, creativity, hard work and cockroach companionship, one can tell that WALL-E is a little guy in constant yearn for something bigger. All he needs to add to his equation was is true LOVE...and of course leave it up to a woman to turn the world upside down (OK, enough with the tag-line cheese!).

One day, not too un-like a cat, WALL-E found the L--O--V--E word in a red laser light that he chased with great passion and fun. However, one light turned into a few. Then, a few turned into many, bringing forth a spaceship that was briefly landing and then dispensing of real LOVE. A LOVE in the name of a much more sophisticated and fire-bombshell-fem-bot named EVA. Almost instantly, WALL-E had something new he wanted to bring home. Though, this new shiny obsession played a souped-up extreme version of the classic game of hard-to-get. To top the tank off, EVA was like a glossy, high-definition iPod in comparison to WALL-E's rickety, scratched up WALKMEN. After a long chase, EVA and WALL-E finally bonded and conversed in their cute robot ways and retreated to WALL-E's home during a major dust storm. Impressing EVA with his wide-range of home decor, dance and collectibles, WALL-E brought out the boot housing the tiny green sapling of LIFE. You would have thought he'd handed EVA a pile of compost instead of a plant, as she freaked out and sounded alarm. She then put the plant inside of her and all systems shut down completely, leaving WALL-E broken down inside. A few scenes later ushered back the same ship that now retrieved EVA, putting her inside as WALL-E climbed aboard the outside, off to follow his heart.

There were a handful of lovely scenes in the film's second half, but I felt it traded in almost all of the lusher-gusher originality for high-gloss blah a bit when the typical CGI dumb-dumb HUMANS were introduced. You see, EVA bought back the sign of LIFE for the HUMANS up on AXIOM. Upon tests and research, they would find that Earth was compatible for good living and resources again and they'd no longer have to lolly-lounge around all day. I won't go into detail on the second half, as you'll have to see it for yourself. It wasn't horrible by any means. But, it just felt like it had lost something deep with me. And although the environmental and health commentary was decent, I feel it was too emphasized, exaggerated and a little too hip, becoming more of a character study and lesson for the kids on our current human behavior instead of the cute and creative robot that I fell in love and related with (but, that's just me). By the time AXIOM made it back to Earth and there was a power-of-love failure with our hero, I feel the beauty and genius of the entire first hour was a thing of the past, wasted on a bunch of humans who I don't feel deserve a second chance with Earth (Maybe that was the point, to be disappointed in us humans and to teach a lesson? Still, I simply didn't care and almost cried because I felt the film had been butchered a bit.) In fact, I wanted the movie to end thirty minutes before it did, when EVA put WALL-E in a self-destructing space pod to fly back to Earth. True, the thing blew-up, but I didn't want WALL-E to go back to AXIOM and back to EVA right away like he did. I wanted WALL-E to somehow get back to his little life with his little cockroach and huge piles of cubed trash happiness…and without HUMANS. I think it would have been great to see WALL-E build giant, creative typographical EVA signs out of trash and eventually, she would suffer enough inside AXIOM and inside her own circuit board, see her name in trash on Earth and have the film end in a triumphant laser beam chase and with thoughts of two digital souls cleaning up in unison. It's almost like the filmmakers spent seven hundred years meticulously crafting one heck of a perfect movie and character study and then ran out of time or care, cranking out a CGI-cliché-feel-good-ending, over-shadowing any care or emotion built in the first half. Perhaps I'm just too harsh or a kill joy in the theatre? But, that first hour was a trash ton heart compaction of KILLER and JOY.


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