WALL-E

Year of Release: 2008     Directed by Andrew Stanton.  Voices of Ben Burtt and Elissa Knight.

Have you ever been in love with a film as a work of art?  A film that not only entertains you, but challenges you, inspires you, and takes you on an adventure to another world, giving you what seems to be a glimpse of Heaven?  Every time you watch it, you notice something new which only increases your admiration even more.  If so, you will forgive this review euphoric rave, because WALL-E is one of those films for me.

The very first shot of WALL-E instantly begins the transportation to another world.  The camera pans across an animated shot of the universe, with breathtaking clarity and beauty, looking every bit as realistic as an actual photo, making the viewer feel as if he is truly admiring the night sky.

Unfortunately, the wonder and beauty of the universe in the opening gives way to the mountains of garbage that have taken over the earth.  All human beings abandoned the world seven hundred years ago, leaving the Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class (WALL-E) robots to clean up the planet.  Now the titular robot is the only one left.  As he goes about his daily work, compacting the trash into squares, he saves small, simple treasures that he finds: a Rubik’s cube, bubble wrap, Christmas lights, a Frisbee, a paddleball,  a toaster, an incandescent bulb, the box of a diamond ring (not the ring) and a VHS of the 1969 film, Hello, Dolly! to name a few.

Simultaneous with the opening shot of outer space, a voice sings, “Out there, there’s a world…full of shine and full of sparkle.”  That voice belongs to Michael Crawford from Hello Dolly!  Director Andrew Stanton said he selected Hello Dolly! because he played one of the leads in his high school production of the musical, but the choice is surprisingly appropriate, especially given the two songs that WALL-E most frequently watches: “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”

WALL-E’s own adventure will mirror the adventures of Crawford’s character in Hello Dolly! which begin and conclude with those two songs.  When WALL-E goes “out there” to outer space, he will find a world “full of shine and full of sparkle.”  On his adventure, he meet will make surprising friendships: giant robots of himself, an OCD cleaning robot, and several whimsically malfunctioning robots.  The screen literally sparkles during a dance through the cosmos fueled by the foam from a fire extinguisher, which may be my personal favorite sequence in any film ever.

However, the more striking use of “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment” inversely reflects the trajectory of the people whom WALL-E meets onboard the spaceship during his journey.  When WALL-E first boards the spaceship, these people are unaware of any world outside the virtual reality that computers have substituted for actual reality.  Needless to say, like WALL-E, they will discover another world out there and full of beauty.

In Hello Dolly!, “It Only Takes a Moment” refers to the love which blossoms between Cornelius and Irene (his beloved) at the end of the story.  WALL-E quickly discovers that type of love when he first meets EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), but this song metaphor also goes much deeper as well.   WALL-E (the film) is all about the small moments that make a difference.  Those moments are first reflected in the opening sequence as the viewer admires the natural beauty of the world, and are then continued as WALL-E (the robot) finds simple joys in his daily work.

As with the previous song, “It Only Takes a Moment” also refers to the journey of the people whom WALL-E encounters.  Simple things that occur in an instant, such as an accidental collision, a service delay, or tampering with electronic equipment irrevocably alter the outcome of several story lines.

The adventures undertaken in WALL-E are foreshadowed through hommages to one of the greatest space adventures, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  When WALL-E first enters outer space on the outside of the rocket, The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss forms the underscoring; it also underscored the first outside shots of the spaceship floating through space in Kubrick’s masterpiece.  The computer that jeopardizes the mission has the same red eye that HAL 9000 has.  At a crucial moment, WALL-E’s soundtrack uses the dramatic opening of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, which 2001 made famous.

Thomas Newman’s original music works just as well as the classical music.  The repeating staccato melody captures the whimsical and inquisitive nature of WALL-E as he goes about his daily work, always alert as he browses the dump for valuables.  The descending arpeggios suggest the vast expanse of garbage in which WALL-E lives alone, as well as the tragic state of the earth due to poor stewardship.

Those who see the film as a preachy, environmentalist message film have completely missed the point, and unfortunately I know quite a few people who do.  The film does say that mankind needs to be good stewards of the earth, which is completely in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church.  It says nothing about global warming or climate change or whatever it’s called now.  According to the film, the best way to become good stewards of God’s gift of the environment is to savor the simple moments that awaken one to the encompassing beauty of the world, which can be found anywhere: in the midst of a heap of garbage to a network of computers to the vast night sky.

Many scenes are shown reflected in WALL-E’s eyes to remind the viewer that the film is his adventure, and ours as well, provided that we can adopt his wonder, awe, and simple acceptance of the beauty surrounding him.  When a major event happens in the first half of the film that disrupts WALL-E’s routine, the impending arrival of that event is shown through a reflection in his eyes.  At the most significant moment of that event the camera cuts to a shot through WALL-E’s eyes, so the viewer can experience the moment as WALL-E does.  Other shots that make brilliant use of this technique are WALL-E admiring his collection of treasures or seeing the universe for the first time.  The shots reflected in WALL-E’s eyes reinforce the idea of seeing the world from a new perspective and appreciating the simple, natural beauty of the environment.

WALL-E provides a dazzling and heartfelt perspective of the world, a perspective that is too often forgotten in the frantic rush that can predominate our culture.  Stepping back and appreciating even the simplest things can make one see a transformed world, redeemed and “full of shine and full of sparkle” as God intended it.  When one sees this world, the best response is to echo WALL-E’s “Whoa!”

Content Advisory: Mild Peril.                                      MPAA rating: G

Suggested Audience: Kids and up.

Personal Recommendation: A+

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