Back in the summertime, when WALL-E was capturing attention at the box office, our staff had some discussion about the originality of Pixar's output. The comment was made that with each film they do, they seem to be trying to up the difficulty level. It's as if the discussion in their offices went something like this: "Let's see, people were willing to come to a movie with talking race cars that lament the old highways and byways like Route 66. That just wasn't difficult enough. What if next time, our main character was a rat? Wait, wait, wait. That's not enough. It needs to be about a rat who likes to cook food for humans!"
Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008 #10:
WALL-E's First Half Is a Silent Movie
By Kim Hollis
January 8, 2009
As we all know, not only did people flock to Ratatouille, it won an Academy Award and is considered one of Pixar's finest films.
Consternation must have followed in the halls of Pixar. "Well, they came to see our rat after all. There must be something even more challenging out there for us. Wait! I know! What if we did a movie about a robot who is all alone on a planet. No! He'll be a robot whose primary function is waste disposal! No, no, that's not quite tough enough. Aha! Let's not have any real dialogue in the first part of the movie, with the exception of a few beeps and whirs!"
We all know how this story turned out. WALL-E earned $224 million in North America with almost $300 million more coming from international venues. Clearly, even though audiences were being asked to take a leap of faith with a movie that had no real speaking parts until the halfway mark, they delighted in the story that was being told. And never doubt that there was a story there. WALL-E melted our hearts as we watched him move from a lonely existence to being a lovesick little robot with the potential to save the world.
WALL-E's journey isn't a quick one, though. In fact, the storytelling in the movie is quite deliberate. The first portion of the movie is almost like eavesdropping on the life of the little guy via a webcam. We see WALL-E move through his days with a very precise number of tasks and activities that he aims to accomplish. Some of these assignments are a direct result of WALL-E's directive; for example, he must gather and crush trash before stacking it into an organized mountain. Other daily tasks are more for his own sake, though. WALL-E sits in the sun to keep his battery charged, he communicates and hangs out with a cockroach, and he luxuriates in the sweetness of the movie Hello Dolly!. It would be difficult enough for a human being to convey the wide range of emotions that WALL-E displays, but the animators of this film do such an incredible job in this regard that the viewer becomes completely absorbed in WALL-E's world. And when the sleek EVE arrives and our little hero falls in love with her, their romance is as sweeter than any romantic comedy.
Perhaps it's because we're so wrapped up in the beeps and bops of their emerging romance that so many people feel that the second half of WALL-E is a letdown. For me personally, it flowed logically and uncovered some of the mystery around the fate of humanity, as well as allowing both WALL-E and EVE to fulfill their directives - both those that were pre-programmed and the vital ones they discovered themselves. Regardless of how you feel about the movie's second half, I think we can all agree that it's truly a remarkable feat that people were wishing for more of the "silent movie" treatment as opposed to a move to the world of human beings.
Either way, the movie has generated enough goodwill and fandom that it has appeared in countless end of year Best Of lists, including a win for Best Picture from the Chicago Film Critics. Now the debate lies as to whether it is deserving of a Best Picture nomination from the Academy Awards, and where WALL-E fits with regard to its placement in the pantheon of Pixar's best films. And now we'll all patiently wait to see if Pixar's creative ambition continues to thrill and delight us as we're expected to accept a senior citizen as our hero in Summer 2009's Up.