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Wall.E (U)

Hailed as a contender for Best Film at next year's Oscars, is Disney-Pixar's new eco-flick as out-of-this-world as it's cracked up to be? Angie Sammons comes down to Earth

Written by . Published on July 28th 2008.

Wall.E (U)

THERE are a number of givens with a Disney Pixar film. Comfort zones if you like.

As sure as popcorn is just puffed air:
a) You will be captivated - in a kind of Simpsons way - whereby you get the jokes the kids don't. And if they aren't consciously appreciating the groundbreaking CGI, then you are.

b) You will be buying them stuffed, remote-controlled models, cutlery and pyjama versions of the movie's main characters for Christmas, breakfast and dinner till the next big idea.

c) That even though they may only be a lot of computer pixels dancing about on the screen, there will be emotional engagement between at least one of the characters and you; be it an orange fish who has got lost, or a robot doll tumbling to earth after discovering he can't fly.

For Pixar movies are fun and fast paced; Make you laugh, tug at your heartstrings and finish with a big number from Robbie Williams. Wall-E is a bit different.

If Wall.E really did need an instruction video in matters of amour, why didn't
the producers give
him Billy Joel's Uptown Girl to
study, instead of a cringe-making Michael Crawford movie?

For a start, how do we say Wall.E? In a Chorley kind of way or in a drawl, the way Americans pronounce “mall”? You wouldn't get any clue from the film, because for at least the first 30 minutes, there is no dialogue at all.

Wall-E has no one to talk to, you see. He is a robot, a lone ranger in a world, 700 years into the future, where the human race has exiled itself into space because the planet is so full of rubbish that it can no longer support life.

So Walle.E spends his days crushing up the debris left by the past world and stacks boxes of scrap up to form huge skyscrapers.

Who put him there? How long has he been doing it? We don't get to ask. His name is an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth Class.

But not everything Wall.E finds is trash. In the rusty shelter where he and a cockroach buddy take refuge from dust storms, he keeps a carefully sorted collection of bric-a-brac, including Zippo lighters, fire extinguisher and a Rubik’s cube.

Nevertheless, in his solitary existence, Wall.E only has eyes - big expressive, deliberately ET-style eyes, mind – for a Hello, Dolly! videotape which he plays much too endlessly for his, or the audience's own good..

That is, until, Eva shows up: a slick, chick robot, mysteriously sent down to Earth from an equally mysterious spaceship. Amid the rubble and strife, Wall.E discovers the power of speech. “Wall.Eeee” (think “Eee-Teee”) and their whirling robot eyes collide. Love on the rocks.

This first half of this U-rated movie, with its Earth beset by apocalyptic devastation and big eco health warning, has been deemed “dark” by US critics, many of whom see it as a contender for Best Film - not Best Animated Film – but Best Film at next year's Oscars.

This is going some on both counts. It's stark, rather than dark - Disney's Wicked Queen in Snow White

was dark – and while the cinemascape is often breathtaking, with echoes of the 70s sci-fi flick Silent Running, from whose plant-plot it heavily borrows (more of that in a moment), there seems little to engage children, yet it is never overly-taxing for adults either.

One wonders if it would have been different had they put Matt Groening on it, who may or may not have been so self consciously looking for a cinematic gong.

Then, suddenly, speech, in the second half of the film. Here the action shifts to the spaceship, home to myriad obese humans who exist amid every consumer comfort, supplied by supermarket conglomerate BuyNLarge. Nice bit of satire there. They don't have to move out of their chairs, their bones are weak, and if they fall out they lie there like jelly. The babies in the kindergarten, ditto.

Eva, it emerges, was sent to Earth on a recce to find life. She returns to the mother ship with a plant given to her by our lovelorn hero (who meanwhile has, literally, hitched a ride to be with her). This prompts the Captain of the ship, a man with all the charisma and character of a potato (played by Jeff Garlin from Curb Your Enthusiasm), to get out the manual with his sausage-sized fingers and slowly decide that, as there is life out there, it's time to head for home.

So plenty of messages here. The evils of consumerism, the preciousness and fragility of life, and in between homages to Stanley Kubrick, Alien (complete with cameo voice over by Sigourney Weaver) and, of course, the love story between the battered Wall.E, from the wrong side of the galaxy, and the posh tottie. To this end, if Wall.E really did need an instruction video in matters of amour, why didn't the producers give him Billy Joel's Uptown Girl to study, instead of a cringe-making Michael Crawford movie?

This is a U-rated film in the loosest sense: there is certainly no sex, violence, or bad language, but whether the kids will get it, in the same way as Finding Nemo or the classic Toy Story, remains to be seen.

Mine were certainly stilled throughout, and said they loved it, but on closer questioning there was a Father Dougal moment when it became apparent that they understood little of the whys and wherefores.

And don't imagine the irony of a house filled with discarded Wall.E toys a year from now has eluded me either.

As this has been almost universally hailed as a masterpiece, I am assuming I should have left Wall.E feeling warm, fuzzy and provoked in thought. But - heresy - like robot love, it left me feeling a bit cold.

*Wall.E is on general release now.

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