Monday, June 16, 2008

On WALL-E...

Before I get into WALL-E, Pixar’s latest effort (which I saw last night at a special Ain’t It Cool News screening), I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I like the picture very much. Overall, it’s a little marvel of a film - funny and exciting and heartwarming and technologically astounding and is certainly one of the better pictures released thus far this year. Of all the Pixar features it probably looks the best, especially since it’s attempting to replicate a dying Earth in a manner that’s never quite looked this way on screen before. It’s also magnificently directed by Andrew Stanton (I’d love to see him get a Best Director nod for this), who tells this story with so much drive and so much creativity that it makes him possibly my favorite of all Pixar directors. The film also has some fine satirical zing about contemporary consumer society (although coming from tie-in happy Disney and Pixar, it's not that biting) and modern stupidity that also makes it worth appreciating, so it’s going to deserve much of the acclaim it’s going to get. I’ll say it here and now: Unless that new Miyazaki film isn’t so hot (or if it doesn’t open in 2008), the Best Animated Feature Oscar is WALL-E’s to lose.

But there’s always a "but", isn’t there? Like I said, I like the film a lot and I don’t begrudge it any success. Pixar is the best at what they do and they do what they do damn well, as we all know. The problem with WALL-E, however, is that for the first time in their history, Pixar is going for “cute” and I don’t like it. Wall-E, the lead, is cute. He falls in love with another robot – cute. He adores the film version of HELLO, DOLLY, at least the parts that only contain Michael Crawford (who, correct me if I’m wrong, receives no credit) – cute. He has a cockroach sidekick – intended to be cute, but if you live in Texas and, like me, hate cockroaches like the day is long (and the day is pretty damn long), not so cute. Never before have I sensed that Pixar was trying to butter me up by playing it cute, but they do here. Does it work? Ultimately, it does. I was touched by the robot romance and didn’t find myself disliking Wall-E itself, but like I said, I could feel the attempts at pulling the heartstrings as kinda forced and resented it for a bit. The HELLO, DOLLY thing really got to me, too. Why HELLO, DOLLY? Does Stanton have a thing for that particular picture? Something wrong with a legitimately great movie musical like OKLAHOMA! or something? They keep re-playing the same two songs (“It Only Takes a Moment” and "Put on Your Sunday Clothes") and it got to be a bit grating, I must say. And the cockroach? Listen guys, I understand they they’re probably going to survive longer than mankind, but some people just don’t like them, OK? The film’s second half is much-more plot oriented and expands the story into non-cute directions, so it’s much easier to take, but when WALL-E plays it cute, I wasn’t always having it.

All that said, I certainly have no problem recommending WALL-E and am sure that it will be as beloved as many of the other Pixar hits are. But like I said before, those pictures didn’t need to be cute to work and they weren’t. I hope that Pixar is able to get the cute out of their system with WALL-E and move on from here. But there’s nothing cute about cheap sentimentality.

(As per the usual course, WALL-E opens with a new Pixar short, a delightful piece called PRESTO about a rabbit and a magic hat, that is probably my favorite Pixar short yet.)