Welcome to the Pixar Rewind! Over the next couple weeks, we at Rotoscopers will analyze every Pixar film ever, and what makes each one so great. At the end of the series, and after the release of ‘Inside Out,’ we will have a fan vote to determine which film is the best of them all!
there’s a world outside of Yonkers,
way out there beyond this hick town, Barnaby,
there’s a slick town, Barnaby.
full of shine and full of sparkle,
close your eyes and see it glisten, Barnaby.
The immediate nostalgia of the classic 1969 musical, Hello, Dolly!, is combined unexpectedly with the extensive beauty of space as WALL-E descends into an even more unexpected image of life on Earth.
Wall-E, short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth class, is the last of his kind, created by humanity to clean up the massive amounts of trash the human-race left behind when pollution forced them to launch into space. Wall-E leads a simple existence pursuing his work and collecting human memorabilia, reveling in the various sentiment provided by unusual objects left behind: light bulbs, lighters, VHS tapes, forks and spoons, and toys like the Rubik’s cube. His only companion, and perhaps the only other living being on the planet, is the small cockroach that follows him to and from work, eating and living in surviving Twinkies.
The soundtrack that Wall-E works to is that of the beloved 1969 film, Hello, Dolly!, which introduces Wall-E to the concept of love and hand-holding, during the iconic song “It Only Takes a Moment”, which holds all Wall-E’s attention. His all too human curiosity pays off when EVE, Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, arrives to scan the planet; he shows her his collection, culminating in his recent discovery of a small plant. His thirst for companionship and adventure take him out into the stars where he discovers what happened to the human race.
The film could almost be classified as a modern silent film, excepting the small moments of dialogue that become more frequent when the humans are introduced. This silence focuses the audience visually on the film before them: details aren’t pointed out, Wall-E’s purpose isn’t defined by voice-over narration, and Eve doesn’t explain the jump from humanity today to the humanity of the film. Instead, the audience must pay attention to the actions and elements of each scene to understand what happened, what is happening, and, in some cases, what will happen.
The use of music from Hello, Dolly! juxtaposes the true past with this version of the future. The 60’s era is referenced often, even in the jingle for Buy N Large superstore: “Buy N Large is your super store, we’ve got all you need, and so much more.” The jingle is reminiscent of the bouncy and catchy jingles from commercials in the fifties and sixties. It combines friendliness and the perfection of barbershop quartet harmonies. Aside from the automatic playing of the jingle as Wall-E passes it on his way, the soundtrack of Wall-E’s journey is Thomas Newman’s iconic score. Working hand-in-hand creatively with director Andrew Stanton, Newman creates a score with themes motivated less by character and more by events as they happen on the screen.
The only character theme repeated more than twice is Eve’s theme, which fatures feminine high strings and is repeated the third time in the end credits. Peter Gabriel’s song “Down to Earth” uses the bass and drum figures from Eve’s theme in an attempt to maintain the pattern created by Newman throughout the film and to blend the song with the score. “Down to Earth” features the return of humanity to Earth in various styles of animation, based on art styles from the history of mankind, such as cave drawings, Van Gogh, and even 8-bit video games.
Outside film’s amazing score, effective minimization of dialogue, and the beautifully rendered animation, Wall-E is a film that presents many common Pixar themes, while also supporting some new ones along the way.
The initial indication that WALL-E is a true Pixar film is the emphasis on non-human beings. Almost every Pixar film features a non-human character, or characters, as sentient beings: the ants of A Bug’s Life, Dug and Kevin in Up, the toys of Toy Story, the cars from Cars, and, soon, even an individual’s emotions themselves in Inside Out. In considering themes, this one is arguably the most important to the film’s plot. These robots, beings not usually considered to have emotions (though the idea has been fictionally explored), must convince the audience of their souls and personalities. For Wall-E, his curiosity and hunger for sentiment provide the backdrop in which the audience begins to empathize with him. As his relationship grows with those around him, especially Eve and M-O, the audience is quickly convinced that robots, indeed, can fall in love, feel sadness, and have their own free will outside their initial purpose of creation.
The relationships formed between the robots and mankind provide an interesting juxtaposition. In some ways, humanity has become the insentient being, oblivious and indifferent to the world around them until they are disconnected from their screens. The human race becomes reliant on their technology, no longer innovating for the future and no longer maintaining awareness of their past. In an almost comical scene, the captain of the Axiom spends several minutes searching the computer database, beginning with an interest in Earth’s soil to the foods commonly eaten – like pizza – and finally ending with an explanation of dancing. The cultural history of Earth was clearly left behind, just like the planet itself, and yet this human reintroduction to dancing is juxtaposed with robots actively dancing outside the Axiom (as beings motivated with emotion enough to do so). With this odd reversal, a symbiotic relationship is begun in which a balance must be created between technology and humanity; humans must realize their own potential as living beings again, rather than simply going through the motions for another 700 years.
While WALL-E is often considered an environmental film pushing for the elimination of technology, the eco-friendly theme actually presented is a little more complex. Humanity, in the film, is indeed all too reliant on technology; however, the solution presented by the film is not an exclusion of technology, but rather an integration of it. As humanity returns to the beginning of a new progressive cycle, depicted through the end credits, humans are shown to work side by side with robots that were initially created for other purposes aboard the Axiom: the typing machine pokes holes for seeds, the larger Waste Allocation Load Lifters hold building materials too heavy to carry, and Eve’s high-speed spinning helps to create a new well. Through WALL-E, Pixar shows that environmentalism and technology are not mutually exclusive causes. What is required to create a productive and healthy environment is the correct balance between human independence from and human reliance on technology. The end credits show that progress is a cycle; even if progress seems to end badly the cycle can begin again, with better informed and more responsible human beings.
WALL-E is a film that ultimately promotes balance: between the past and future, technology and humanity, curiosity and complacency. While environmentalism serves as a motif to support the film’s main point, the majority of the film is focused on humanity itself and the evolution of technology in the absence of human motivation. Rather than technology serving as the antagonist or humanity serving as the antagonist, the enemy is complacency and ignorance (a pattern requiring Wall-E’s rude awakening as he boards the Axiom and ends the 700 years humanity has spent aboard a five-year mission). WALL-E is beautiful, visually and musically, maintains the sweetness and comedy of Pixar, and tells a story much deeper than man versus nature. From the first image of the cosmos, WALL-E captures the universe and every heart within it.
What do you think of WALL-E? Do you think it is Pixar’s best film?
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Edited by: Hannah Wilkes