Sunday, July 13, 2008

Define Hoedown

Pixar's latest entry, WALL-E, only further cements their status as the most reliable and smartly entertaining filmmakers around. Like last year's superb Ratatouille, this film succeeds particularly in both its new levels of cinematic animation and visual astonishment and its nuanced depths of story telling. The nuance is not in its social critique, a frighteningly grim portrayal of an Earth devoid of life. The excesses of megacorporations have taken their toll, humans have been living on a roboticized space ship for centuries, and the only thing left on Earth is WALL-E a trash compacting robot, and his cockroach friend. WALL-E is a robot, but humanized through a particularly affecting form of curiosity which feels to the audience like nostalgia. Various artifacts are dutifully collected and marvelled at by him, none moreso than a copy of Hello Dolly. But none of these matter in comparison with Eve, a robot searching for life, and finds in WALL-E if not life, then love. Eve and WALL-E collect a plant, return to the spaceship, which is then set for a showdown between the captain who wants to return, and the robots who control the ship.

If this sounds like a rehash of 2001, it is an homage, from the dialogueless opening, to this plot, to a well-timed use of Richard Strauss. It touches on a variety of other cultural landmarks as well, but always with a keen knowledge of what the film is doing. Pixar is a master of detail, crafting a love story out of two creatures who can cumulatively only speak three words, two names and "directive." Other robots have personalities, while the humans have been lulled into a subservient, brainless life of virtual reality, one which is fissured by the end of the film.

While there is no disputing the comic genius and cleverness, the sweet and difficult romance than left me teary more than once, or the visual sweep of the film, what struck me was the lasting impact of its earnest message. On its surface, the film seems to be another eco-parable, but under it lies a recognition of the value of art. The waste discarded on earth becomes art through WALL-E's touch, from trash skyscrapers, to the individual items he plucks from the junkpiles, finding the beauty in everyday objects. The music he listens to, Hello Dolly and Louis Armstrong is like rediscovering a forgotten favorite album. Hello Dolly is a fascinating choice, since the film practically ruined Hollywood (opening the door for indie directors) and thus is pointedly complex in its point about big industry, that they can falter, but they can also produce things of beauty. And the ending credits demonstrate the rebirth of the planet not through technology or people, but through the history of art, implying that art is what makes our planet inhabitable (technicalities aside). Alongside Ratatouille, another film that so persuasively and tenderly argued for realizing the power of art and the artist (and the critic), Pixar makes its case for how it makes the world a better place. The arts are not for escaping the real world, they are for building it.


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