Deborah Ross

Dystopian love STOR.E


Text settings

WALL.E, the latest CGI animation from Pixar in collaboration with Disney, has already been hailed as a ‘modern masterpiece’ — in America, at least — but I’m not so sure. It has a cracking, enthralling, wonderfully dystopian first half, but after that it appears mostly concerned with hurtling towards one of those predictable endings that are just too CUTES·E (hey, anyone can interpunct, you know) and DISN·E (see?) for words. WALL·E is exceptionally good, just as Toy Story was, and The Incredibles, but not Cars or Ratatouille — too heavy-handed — but a masterpiece? I’m thinking a ‘masterpiece’ should ultimately take you somewhere surprising, somewhere you didn’t expect, into something new, but I could be wrong, just as I am wrong about most things, although, thinking about it, if I’m wrong about that, then I’m actually right. WHOOP·E!

WALL·E is set in 2700 on a litter-strewn earth abandoned by humans. The planet can no longer sustain life so they have all fled to cruise ships in space. WALL·E, which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class, as you probably guessed, is, in fact, the last (sort of) living thing on the planet; the last of the mini-robots left behind to collect and compact the rubbish. He is basically a tin can on tracks with binoculars for a head, but by tilting it this way, or that, he is capable of an astonishing range of expressions: curious, beseeching, winsome, scared. Mostly, though, WALL.E is lonely and longs for companionship; a longing wonderfully captured in the way he lovingly fondles human memorabilia — forks; Rubik’s cubes; a light bulb — and, back at his pad, watches his video of Hello, Dolly!, playing and replaying the smoochy bits between Cornelius Hackl and Irene Molloy. He practises holding hands by holding his own hand. Seriously, if you don’t feel tears pricking at your eyelids then you are extremely hard-hearted and, possibly, a knife-carrying hoodie. Are you?

The first 20 minutes are dialogue free and brilliant, as well as strangely beautiful, and there is every chance you will think, as I did, ‘Something is really going on here.’ Even the skyscrapers constructed from compacted rubbish are strangely beautiful. And it’s packed with inventive little details — one of those silly, Billy Bass singing fish, for example, still going strong after all these years — but then the narrative kicks in, as it must I suppose, and after that it is never as good again. WALL·E meets EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, of course), a robotic probe who appears to be part floating egg, part iPod, and has been sent to earth to seek any sign of organic life. He beeps. She beeps. He’s smitten. He gives her the seedling he has just discovered. She races with it back to space to show the humans, and he follows, thus ‘setting in motion one of the most incredible comedy adventures ever brought to the big screen’. Please, no. Can’t we have something other than that?

Space is a visual and comic riot, at first, particularly as all humans are now fat, mindless, lazy, American (ha!) consumers who ride around in hover-chairs while living life virtually through screens and drinking all their food as milkshakes, for maximum convenience. (It looks great; book me in!) So, can WALL·E get them back in touch with what it means to be human beings who can connect with one another, and their planet? Can they, in turn, fight off the corporation that wants to keep everybody mindless in space for all time? Alas, this is where the ‘adventure’ begins and the adventure is mainly chase sequences and then more chase sequences. It’s goodies thwarting baddies and then baddies thwarting the goodies; that kind of thing, over and over. There are some nice moments — particularly WALL·E propelling himself with a fire extinguisher — but, boy, is there a lot of this chasing. In fact, we are chased right though to the predictably happy, syrupy end with it’s anti-consumerist message, although quite what this means for all the WALL·E merchandising crap currently out in the shops and ringing at the tills is anyone’s guess.

Look, at its heart WALL·E is, I suppose, a love story, and it’s not as if the eco-message is insultingly hammered home as it was, say, in Happy Feet. Much of the film is wonderfully imagined, and there is something utterly winning about this tin can topped with binoculars. (I cried; twice). Kiddies will see it, I know, so obviously it can’t be too dystopian, although, come on, every meal as a milkshake? YIPP·E! The film goes so far, but ultimately doesn’t see it through. Is it worth seeing? Yes, probably. It’s just a shame that, at the end, it trips itself up with its own SENTIMENTALIT·E. (I don’t know about you, but I find that once I start interpuncting I just cannot stop.)