Capsule Review: WALL*E

In brief, anybody who isn’t an agoraphobic shut-in would be nuts not to see the new Pixar movie. Covering briefly why the film scored 97/100 at Rotten Tomatoes, the dialogue-free opening thirty minutes are some of the best film ever made. You can see on the trailer most of the key points without revealing anything that you would do better to find out in the theater: lonely robot falls for a sleek visitor who vastly outclasses him, she notices, she gets recalled to wherever, unable to bear the loss her he hangs on to her ship, adventure follows.

As a human(ish) drama I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up a few times, and I haven’t done that since Contact (obviously your mileage may vary). The humor matches Pixar’s best work. It succeeds both as a science fiction film and as a Zucker brothers-like nod to great moments in scifi (example: casting Sigourney Weaver as the voice of HAL). There are two notable science goofs (sound and swirling dust in space) that make it into the trailer and a related outrage that doesn’t, but those are vastly outweighed by the writers’ ability to keep the main logic internally consistent, a bar so high that I’d almost forgotten that it exists. If you let robots develop a personality and override their programmed priorities, some will turn out good and some will be jerks. The end credits are a gift for humanities majors. It’s too smart for young kids, who will enjoy the spectacle while their parents scheme to drag them back for another go.

So yeah, I liked the movie. It’s more than worth whatever crazy price your cineplex is charging these days.

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46 replies
  1. 1
    Walker says:

    It’s more than worth whatever crazy price your cineplex is charging these days.

    Drive-in theater. $7 per adult, $3 per child. Reasonably priced concessions. Stereo sound piped through your car radio and you can talk with the people in your car without ruining it for others.

    Oh yeah, that $7/$3 is for a double feature. Though three drive-ins in the vicinity appear to be pairing WALL*E with Get Smart.

  2. 2
    dan robinson says:

    Ziggurats of trash.

    Misfit robots, one painting in impressionistic sprays of color, in for repair.

    Throw away the diamond, keep the box.

    Don’t get me started.

  3. 3
    another dan says:

    Another science goof in Wall-E almost not worth mentioning — since it appears in pretty much every science fiction movie except 2001 — is the force of gravity for some reason existing on a space ship. What happens when the ship “tilts”? Everything in the ship starts sliding to the “lower” side!

  4. 4
    Tim F. says:

    My third science goof was the miracle space plant. Watching it not crystallize and shatter made me cringe a little. About the gravity, I figure that if we can grant artificial gravity then its direction is arbitrary, so the autopilot can tilt it whichever way he wants.

  5. 5
    RSA says:

    I always liked it on Star Trek when the ship makes a sharp turn and everyone has to grab onto something. You get the idea that they have artificial gravity generators but haven’t quite figured out that they can control which direction “down” is, not to mention accounting for acceleration in any direction.

  6. 6
    dave says:

    What sci-fi movie has ever gotten the no-sound-in-outer-space thing right? Silent explosions just aren’t very cinematic.

  7. 7
    chris c says:

    I was with you until you mentioned Contact.

    Too be fair, I teared up in that movie too. But probably not for the same reasons you did.

  8. 8
    Genine says:

    Its funny to see this review. I am actually going to see Wall-E today. I’ve been waiting for this movie and months and its gotten fantastic reviews from critics as well as people I know.

    Looking forward to it.

  9. 9
    Louise says:

    What sci-fi movie has ever gotten the no-sound-in-outer-space thing right? Silent explosions just aren’t very cinematic.

    I know Firefly got this right, but did Serenity? (I’d pop my DVD in to check, but I’m at work.)

    I scored high on the Movie Dork-o-meter from yesterday, at least in the Sci-Fi sub-category.

  10. 10
    Rosali says:

    Drive-in theater- Do you have your car on with the A/C running during the movie?

  11. 11
    Neal says:

    Saw Wall-E last night. Incredible.

  12. 12
    slippy hussein toad says:

    You get the idea that they have artificial gravity generators but haven’t quite figured out that they can control which direction “down” is, not to mention accounting for acceleration in any direction.

    To be fair, momentum is momentum no matter if you have artificial gravity or not. The tilting gag in WallE was cheesy but the visual it created was hilarious. And maybe Otto was also screwing with the gravity as a means of getting people under control. . .

    And this movie roxors, by the way. I’m guessing I’ll be seeing it again over the weekend of the 4th.

  13. 13
    Rheinhard says:

    Posted this on Oliver Willis a little bit ago on his WallE thread, and hope you don’t mind my repost here:

    Saw it yesterday while visiting the ‘rents. Very good – I am always fond of movies in general and animation in particular which can convey the content and meaning without dialog, as is done brilliantly for the first third or so of WALL-E. I have to say, with the mountains of trash and the human race reduced to lazy lumpen blobs with no initiative other than mass consumerism, this movie reminded me a lot of IDIOCRACY (though without all the crass Mike Judge humor).

    Of course it’s also amusing watching the wingnuts respond to this. Since, as you observed, the role of Buy N’ Large and the idiot consumerist lumpenproletariat comprise an implicit criticism of our mass consumer culture, I’ve read a number of wingnuts berate the movie as “anti-capitalism”. And, of course, since Fred Willard (the Buy N’ Large CEO) is seen making a speech in which he directs his minions to “stay the course” which has obviously led to the failure of human civilization, this means the film is also AN IMPLICIT CRITICISM OF THE LEADER AND MUST NOT BE TOLERATED!

  14. 14
    Gregory says:

    What sci-fi movie has ever gotten the no-sound-in-outer-space thing right?

    2001, unless you count The Blue Danube.

  15. 15
    dmsilev says:

    Wonderful, wonderful film.

    I forgive the science glitches, especially since they gave us that lovely space-dancing scene.

    And as a side note, the homage to the opening section of 2001 had most of the adults in the theater collapsed in laughter (and a bunch of confused-looking kids).

    -dms

  16. 16
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Saw it. Loved it.

    Two snaps up.

    PS, doesn’t “Contact” qualify for the dork movies list? Just saskin’.

  17. 17
    Pixie says:

    I saw this movie yesterday with my mom and it made me cry a couple of times. I’m glad it had the same effect on you too :) I was wondering if I was just being too sensitive because its THAT time ;P

  18. 18
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    saskin’ or askin’

    either one

  19. 19
    Walker says:

    Do you have your car on with the A/C running during the movie?

    Radio on, but drawing from the battery only. No engine, no AC (it does not get that hot often here during nights). You can do this for hours without draining the battery.

  20. 20
    pdf says:

    Saw this on Friday night, and Wanted first show this morning (10:40 AM). Wall-E was great; I didn’t spot the 2001 homage, but thought the tilting ship (and all the sliding blob-people) was a hilarious nod to Titanic. Has Pixar ever screwed up, or do they have the best track record ever?

  21. 21
    Joe Beese says:

    The opening third is genius. The remaining two-thirds characteristically quality Pixar product.

    Stay to the very end of the credits for a small bonus.

    Two thoughts encountered elsewhere:

    1. “Never has an enormous global corporation spent so much money insulting its customers.”

    2. “To avoid being hypocrites, they should have included some Pixar-related merchandise among the mountains of consumer trash.”

  22. 22
    dmsilev says:

    The 2001 homage was in two parts.

    First off, the autopilot owed a good chunk of its design to HAL 9000. In particular, the red “eye” at its center.

    The second part came when something dramatic happened (avoiding spoilers here), as Also Sprach Zarathustra played. Hearing that music maps pretty strongly to “ape-man throwing a bone into the sky” for a lot of people. It’s a pity that the action in Wall-E didn’t allow them to immediately follow that moment with the Blue Danube Waltz, but oh well.

    -dms

  23. 23
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    It’s a pity that the action in Wall-E didn’t allow them to immediately follow that moment with the Blue Danube Waltz, but oh well.

    Nah, would’ve been overkill, in my humble opinion.

    Just a nice little blink of a moment.

  24. 24

    Does anyone think that the idea was pitched as, “Let’s remake Silent Running, but as an animated comedy!”

  25. 25
    Adolphus says:

    2. “To avoid being hypocrites, they should have included some Pixar-related merchandise among the mountains of consumer trash.”

    To be fair there was some Apple computer related garbage, but then there was the iPod and Apple start up sound plugs.

    Saw it today and loved it. The first 30-40 minutes is genius

  26. 26
    PaulW says:

    1) The movie is definitely an anti-Bush allegory of failed leadership: the faulty planning, the cheery false front, the blatant lying and refusal to face facts by the BnL CEO and by extension the robots left in charge by the corporation. Just imagine how Dubya’s going to be when it’s time for him to flee office, he’s gonna sound and act just like Willard: “Okay,” he’ll grouse, heading for exit stage right, “let’s get out of here…”

    2) For all the science goofs that people are griping about now, here’s one: all the products and supplies that the Axiom passengers keep consuming… WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM?

  27. 27
    Herb says:

    The BDS didn’t get to you then?

  28. 28
    Tim F. says:

    PS, doesn’t “Contact” qualify for the dork movies list? Just saskin’.

    You have to tear up to get full credit.

    The BDS didn’t get to you then?

    Nope, but apparently I don’t have it as bad as you do. It amuses me how some people have grown so deranged that a little criticism of their Leader sends them into emotional fits.

  29. 29
    Watts says:

    I really think the idea that this movie is intended as a criticism of the current administration is a remarkable example of BDS in and of itself. Yes, the satirical elements have a fairly explicit message of “take responsibility for your own mess.” This is an age-old and, dare I say, canonically “traditional value” point.

    Incidentally, there is, in fact, Pixar-related trash throughout the scenes on Earth — there’s several references to “Toy Story,” including some of the toys and even the pizza delivery truck.

  30. 30
    Aredubya says:

    After the product-placement ugliness that was “Cars”, it’s really awesome to see Pixar scoring with back-to-back works of genius. “Ratatouille” was a sweet ode to creation, but “WALL-E” works on every level – earnest agitprop, slapstick comedy, and yes, a little romance. WALL-E himself is a Chaplin-esque physical comedy wonder. Yes, I know it’s animated, but perfecting the timing and angles for his mannerisms takes real planning and skill. The animation itself is breathtaking, especially the opening scenes. I’ll stop gushing. Just go see it.

  31. 31
    MobiusKlein says:

    Science goofs too many to name – but it’s an animated movie.

    Can’t go into them without a spoiler warning, however.

    test of hiding
    Hilight to see text.

  32. 32
    Cyrus says:

    There are two notable science goofs (sound and swirling dust in space) that make it into the trailer and a related outrage that doesn’t, but

    I don’t know if sound in space should count as a goof, unless of course it’s a plot point that characters react to or something. We don’t call it a goof when there’s classical music playing in the background but no instruments are visible in a normal atmosphere, do we?

  33. 33
    Jon H says:

    “My third science goof was the miracle space plant. Watching it not crystallize and shatter made me cringe a little.”

    To be perfectly honest, I expect there are enough scientists at Pixar that any ‘science goofs’ were done intentionally, or at least that the objections were raised internally and consciously overruled for aesthetic or entertainment value.

    Pixar’s President and longtime technical wizard, Ed Catmull, has a BS in physics and computer science, and a PhD in computer science, and I expect has done a lot of work getting simulated physics just right.

  34. 34
    Jon H says:

    The paddleball scene in the trailer reminded me of Floyd the robot from Infocom’s Planetfall and Stationfall.

  35. 35
    KevinD says:

    Two snaps up.

    In a circle?

  36. 36
    KevinD says:

    2 other excellent movies out, Mongol and Wanted.

  37. 37

    […] Another movie post, this one claiming that WALL*E is the best thing on screen since, well, anyhow, it’s a classic. […]

  38. 38
    Jon H says:

    Actually, come to think of it, I bet that of all entertainment films, Pixar movies have by far the most science/engineering PhDs in their credits.

  39. 39
    JWeidner says:

    “To avoid being hypocrites, they should have included some Pixar-related merchandise among the mountains of consumer trash.”

    If you look closely and quickly, you can spot the Pixar pickup truck among the mounds of trash. It hardly makes up for the fact that Disney is one of the largest contributors to mass-consumerism, but there is a Pixar reference among the trash piles, if only as an insider joke (this is the same pickup truck that appears in every Pixar movie – it was used as the pizza delivery truck in Toy Story and has made an appearance in every movie since)

    Tim, the animators who worked on Wall-e would be stoked to know that they were able to draw out an emotional response from you. They work hard to create the best performances they can, and it’s always gratifying to find out they were successful. I was talking to one of them over the weekend who really struggled to get the emotions needed for Wall-e’s performance – it was very hard for him, considering Wall-e’s expressiveness needs to come from the tilt of his head and the movements in his eyes. He was very happy when people would tell him that the performance was so moving.

  40. 40
    Tim F. says:

    Tim, the animators who worked on Wall-e would be stoked to know that they were able to draw out an emotional response from you.

    It wasn’t just a little reaction either. That one scene near the end (you probably know what I’m talking about) still shakes me up today.

    BTW, the part of Contact that teared me up wasn’t the annoying daddy issues stuff. What got me was the cruel twist of having Foster sit in front of a Senate Committee and face the total lack of evidence that her ‘ship’ did anything other than fall straight through. Forcing her to fall back on faith tilted the final judgment in favor of McConaughey’s character, and he didn’t deserve it. If I wasn’t a scientist and almost PZ Meyers-level rationalist it might not have meant so much.

    By comparison, what WALL*E did to me was just goddamn great story telling. For some reason it affected me even more than the same scene in another recent movie starring real people.

  41. 41
    JWeidner says:

    It wasn’t just a little reaction either. That one scene near the end (you probably know what I’m talking about) still shakes me up today.

    I’m pretty sure I know exactly what you’re talking about, which just happens to be the sequence that the animator I was talking to had worked on.

  42. 42
    Jon H says:

    ” For some reason it affected me even more than the same scene in another recent movie starring real people.”

    That’s effectively a spoiler, isn’t it?

  43. 43
    Hannah Zimmerman says:

    It is good to see so many people who enjoyed the movie. On a lot of the other sites I found blogs that were saying that it was awful and blasting conservatives and americans. I found this funny letter that was directed towards all the pissed off conservatives on the Pitch Website that was pretty entertaining. Here is a link if you want to check it out…http://www.pitch.com.

  44. 44
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    I can think of no bleaker vision of the future for humanity than having every need met, every desire satisfied, and whim catered to with no more effort than lifting a single finger. That, to me, was a far more depressing and dystopian vision than, say, The Road Warrior. It was less an indictment of consumerism (that is, buying useless shit we don’t need and will throw away in a few weeks) than it was our need to be constantly stimulated and entertained and distracted so that we’re never left alone with our own scary or troubling thoughts.

    I think people who see this as an anti-consumerist or anti-corporate or overtly environmental polemic are missing the point. Like Nemo and the Incredibles and Ratatouille, this was a story about potential; the potential for love among robots, first and foremost, but also the potential for greatness that we Murkians are currently wasting.

    Stanton has this gift for finding beauty in tragedy and vice versa; both Finding Nemo and WALL-E serve as textbook definitions of “bittersweet.”

    And I want the goddamned DVD yesterday.

  45. 45
    grendelkhan says:

    Grumpy Code Monkey is on the right track. In addition to being one of the most charmingly wondrous movies I’ve ever seen, it’s also one of the bleakest SF dystopias ever committed to celluloid.

    How did Vinge put it? Ah, yes. “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” The humans have entered a period of species-wise senescence; they’re essentially kept as pets by their robot overlords. All of the meaningful action is performed by the robots.

    In case anyone’s concerned about such a thing, SPOILERS follow.

    The credits sequence, showing robot and human working side by side as farmers, is ridiculous on its face. Heartwarming and all, yes, but the idea that sedentary post-industrial human-shaped pet-blobs would survive a return to, essentially, feudalism, is insane. Bob the Angry Flower covered that one. Also, see Heinlein’s “It’s Great To Be Back!”, from 1947.

    Also, I understand that it would have broken everyone’s heart, mine included, but WALL-E should have remained dead. It’s like the creators saw the darkness at the logical conclusion of their story, and turned away from it.

    Despite my carping negativity, I loved it. When I enjoy something that much, I, weirdly enough, expect even more from it.

  46. 46
    grendelkhan says:

    Oh, and I almost forgot–did anyone else see the short (“Presto”) at the beginning and remark that now the rabbit is thinking with portals?

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