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"Wall*E" Charms Even As it Slips In Some Subversive Ideas

by on December 1, 2008

I doubt I need to tell too many of you what Wall*E is about: its $223 million at US box offices alone speaks to the movie’s runaway success. A little robot abandoned on an Earth drowning in trash finds a way to save it and the human race that abandoned it. It sounds simple, and in the end it probably is a bit simple, but that only adds to the power of the emotion it brings out. If you’ve never cried during a movie before, you very well might during this film.

And you would be crying for a robot who can’t even speak. That is the essence of its characterization and it’s what makes the movie work. It’s a return to silent-film technique, with a character who can’t talk; more than that, it’s a character who doesn’t look remotely human and who can only emote through motion and some bleeps and bloops.

Once again, Pixar has hit a grand slam with this, probably their best movie since Monsters Inc. You will believe that a robot can have a heart and a soul. Even with a few gaping logic conundrums and holes, the story perseveres and eventually triumphs, and the visuals stand the test as well. Pixar has never done something that required such a degree of visual believability before, and they aced it. Between the absolutely stunning visuals and the expansive sound stage, any of you with a home theater system will find it getting a very good workout.

The Wall*E DVD set is a fairly well stocked package. The three-disc set I received for review includes the movie, a commentary track with director Andrew Stanton, a couple of deleted scenes, and a featurette on making sound for the movie. Disc two has more featurettes on the creation of the movie, a couple more deleted scenes, some incredibly satirical B&L shorts, and a documentary on the history of Pixar up to 2006. Disc three contains a digital copy of the movie for laptops and other such portable hard drives. Think of it as a legal rip of the movie, but it does have a lock out code on it, so it is not totally DRM-free.

The commentary track is probably the most important extra overall, and the only one exclusive to the DVD since our very own website has links to most of the other special features here. Mr. Stanton discusses the gestation of the story and quite a bit of the process behind its production, though not a whole lot about the ideas that it embodies. He seems skittish about the film’s rather self-evident environmental message and its pretty harsh cultural critique. Just coming out and saying “This is what the movie is about and you’re an idiot if you don’t get it” probably wouldn’t be the smartest move. Still, between the movie itself and the viciously cutting B&L shorts on the second disc Pixar has turned a very harsh light on the excesses of the culture that birthed the company and says some thing that not everyone will be comfortable hearing about themselves, so dodging that does seem just a little bit like ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room.

Beyond the commentary the rest of the special features are pretty much the standard variety of behind the scenes peeks that any well done DVD includes these days. They are not totally exhaustive, and I doubt Wall*E really needs a Lord of the Rings-level treatment, but they do very effectively show how much work went into creating the world we see on screen. The most interesting part is how much work they did with filming and replicating the kinds of lighting used in regular movies. The other really big extra is the documentary put together by Leslie Iwerks on the history of Pixar, covering the period from John Lasseter’s graduation from Cal Arts to the release of Cars. If the name “Iwerks” seems familiar for some reason, it is the name of her father’s company, which does the assembly work for a lot of the films and equipment used in theme park simulation attractions. Also, her grandfather was Ub Iwerks, one of the original Disney animators, so there’s a lot of connections running throughout the various production houses involved in making Wall*E.

Sadly, I must give Disney/Pixar a very hard rap on the knuckles for the way they have packaged this DVD set. Rather than using the usual plastic case with a swinging flap, they used a paperboard box with two wings that you pull out to get the DVDs out, which almost guarantees that you will damage your DVDs. (I’m fairly certain that the odd hiccup in my copy at about a minute into the film is caused by a scratch from the packaging.) Since they’re not secured at all, it is very easy for the DVDs to slide around in the sleeve and get scratched; it is also very easy for them to fall out of the sleeves when they are pulled out. Additionally, the package is very easy to damage, making it difficult to even pull the DVDs out in the first place. Perhaps in deciding to go this route they were thinking that paperboard is more “green” than plastic, though given the complexities that surround the manufacture of paperboard, it’s still a pretty debatable decision.

That being said, if you like what Pixar has out with before, you will not be disappointed in Wall*E, If you like movies period, you will not be disappointed by Wall*E. Without a doubt it is one of the best movies released so far in 2008 and will easily pass the test of time to become yet another one of Pixar’s seemingly neverending list of classic films.

Some owners of the WALL-E 3-disc deluxe edition DVD have noted similar skipping and playback problems as Weatherman notes above. Owners having this problem can call Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment at 1-800-723-4763 to assist in resolving the issue.

All images are © Disney. All rights reserved.

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