Wall-E: The future is grim yet gleeful.

At last, a post-apocalyptic movie for the kids in us all!

Well, I saw Wall-E last night, and I’ve had 24 hours to mull it over. 24 hours that I’ve been spending pulling gravel out of my hair from the Virginia Center Commons parking lot, upon which I crumbled, overcome with emotion, after some animated robots ripped my heart to shreds. There is 100% chance that I have just viewed the film that will win the 2009 Best Animated Film Oscar. I know, stop the presses, right? The Pixar folks get so many awards they probably use gold statuettes for currency or garden gnomes. You can’t blame the Academy too much, though. It’s not like there are a lot of solid competitors in the world of animated film ready go head to head with Pixar’s trademark snappy scripts and universal appeal.

But as celebrated as the digital animation giant is, I’m going to say what we’re all thinking. There hasn’t been a truly great Pixar movie in years! Adorable, yes. Bubbly, sure. Clever, natch. But brilliant? Powerful? Groundbreaking? Fresh? This story of both a lonely robot and an irresponsible species is all of those things right off the bat. And the best part is, it manages to do so without much of a script. And I don’t mean that it manages to do so in spite of a stupid script, I mean that most of the dialogue we get in Wall-E consists of chirps, beeps, gasps, and the amazingly expressive repetition of the names of the two main characters, Wall-E and Eve.

I just now realized why a friend of mine with two young children was so surprised at my awestruck attitude about this movie. I happened to view Wall-E in a deserted theater on a Monday night. It created a romantic atmosphere in which my husband and I clutched each other and trembled with feeling as we watched a doe-eyed machine reject his smothering loneliness and convey single-minded devotion towards a streamlined, female iPod. It made for a lot of squeezing of hands and sharing of candy, that’s for sure. To offer a stark contrast, this past Saturday, a child sat (wildly danced) in front of me for three hours at a matinee of the Broadway version of The Lion King at the Kennedy Center while shouting “THAT IS NOT A LION, MOMMY” as her mother tried to ply her with candy and empty threats, a style of parenting apparently meant to confuse and enrage both the child and all of the surrounding bystanders. If that child/parent duo had defied the hex I put on them and turned up at this showing of Wall-E (hopefully with the intention of reimbursing me for The Lion King), you could put the Hector/Achilles fight scene from Troy* on that screen, and I’m pretty sure I still would lose my mind and head for the exit. In short, I cannot even imagine sitting through this film with a theater full of sugar-fed children, and I can only guess how chasing a bored kid down an aisle littered with other bored kids might change your perception of Wall-E.

Luckily, I was able to avoid the younger set. As a result, I could fully experience how Pixar has stretched boundaries and exposed capabilities of animated feature film that I, for one, certainly didn’t expect. If anything, the lack of spoken dialogue only allows us to appreciate in clear detail the subtleties of their animating talents. Additionally, the sounds and setting, which were both reminiscent of Star Wars**, induce faint pangs of nostalgia that are more genuine than anything I felt while watching that Attack of the Clones monstrosity. And of course there’s the environmental message that reprimands while still allows hope. That’s something we don’t get too often, and while it may be unrealistic to have hope about the fate of our planet, it is rather ripping of Pixar not to make the plants get mad at us and release fatal chemicals. Top all of this off with a repeated reference to the film Hello, Dolly!, about which I wasn’t aware anyone had spent that much time thinking except me and Barbra Streisand, and we have a beautiful animated study in loneliness, environmental disaster, the fate of humankind, and the seemingly endless varieties of robot body language.

The one hazard of this film is that you have a good chance of finding yourself thinking, “Ugh, humans. Maybe we’d just be better off letting the adorable robots take over.” And you and I both know that this sounds eerily like what robots would want us to think.

*You know what I’m talking about, ladies.
**I read that Pixar brought Star Wars‘s original sound designer out of retirement to work on Wall-E.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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