My Favourite Film
Why I love… Wall-E
Will Findlater, Stuff’s global online editor, explains why he’s fallen for an animated-robot love story and its anti-tech message…
It’s taken a while for me to realise that Wall-E is the best film I’ve seen.
I first watched it at Cineworld in Wandsworth in 2008 through a state-of-the-art digital projection system, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it’s only since I’ve had it at home, since I’ve watched it again and again with a two-year-old who has a seemingly insatiable appetite for robots, that I’ve come to appreciate the scale of director Andrew Stanton’s endeavour.
Still, I’ve been wrestling with the question of what it is I actually like so much. Sure, it’s a heart-warming and quirky tale of robot romance and human redemption against the odds (etc, etc), and it’s a beautiful thing to look at. I guess there’s a strong element of ‘what’s not to like?’ in there. But there’s also so much more.
I think Wall-E‘s greatest triumph lies in its tension. Obviously I don’t mean tense like Dead Calm or Joe Pesci’s scenes in Goodfellas – it’s a U after all. Rather, it’s a tension that exists through the film’s many contradictory messages and styles.
On the one hand, it’s devastating. The backdrop is an Earth so abused by humankind that it’s incapable of supporting life, and a corporation in part responsible for its destruction (Buy N Large, familiar from other Pixar movies) has shipped off the last remaining denizens for a space cruise that’s already lasted over 700 years while its robots (of which our titular hero is one) deal with the junk.
Humanity has been reduced to shrunken-boned blobs of man flesh, consumers of whatever is placed in front of them, incapable of looking after themselves, spending their days from infancy with marketing messages mainlined into their eyeballs and their sedentary adult existences being ferried around their mothership, the Axiom, and conversing via social media, despite the presence of potential companions an arm’s reach away.
It’s an indictment of technology, an indictment of humanity, a satirical swipe at big business. But it’s also a heartfelt celebration of these things. The technology that babies and controls the Axiom’s population is capable of resurrecting the planet. Knocked out of their spoonfed stupor by Wall-E’s antics, the people turn out to be courteous, warm and good-humoured. The robots, bar the sinister Auto (a nice doffing of the cap to 2001’s HAL 9000) and his tiny henchman, are sympathetic. And, of course, Wall-E and Eve fall in love. Tech, used without care, can ruin many things, but tech is capable of fixing problems and, so the film suggests, of fostering love.
Time to switch off
This contradiction has echoes in my day job. I guess there’s a certain irony to the editor of one of the world’s foremost tech publications being so enamoured of a film that could be considered anti-tech. But for all of my day to day positivity about gadgets, apps and web services, I know that our reliance on technology to ease or automate every task brings with it risks of increased laziness, waste or ineptitude – the loss of skills that we used to take for granted. Equally, an over-reliance of social media can isolate people from real-life interaction. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s good to put your smartphone down.
Another great contradiction is in the style between acts. Earth is scorched, dusty and littered; the Axiom gleams with polish, glass and neon. Likewise, Wall-E is earthbound, battered, rusty and square; Eve is a floating, minimal white egg.
And the physics is perfect, too. When Eve is first dropped on Earth, her flyby feels amazingly fast. The accuracy of the movement makes the film real in a way that belies its cartoonish looks. Such contrasts conspire to provide a feast for the eyes. With Wall-E, Pixar has made the most convincing argument I’ve seen for a high bitrate Blu-ray disc. It’s a film worth upgrading your TV for.
Another reason I can watch Wall-E on repeat (and the two-year-old means I sometimes do) is that it’s so damn funny. It’s full of perfect physical comedy, the sort that makes a toddler fall off their chair. I know nothing of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, but Wall-E has given me an appreciation of the fierce intelligence and choreography behind well-pitched slapstick. The opening half hour is almost wordless but it’s also hilarious, and a lot of it is down to Wall-E’s physical movements.
This near-flawless combination of laughs, love, incredible visuals and gently insinuated eco and anti-/pro-tech messaging is what makes Wall-E so special for me. And that no other film can keep both me and my son occupied so effectively.
Will Findlater is global online editor of Stuff
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