Sunday, July 6, 2008

Wall-E: A Minority View

(this was originally written as an email to Stephen Greydanus and his wonderful movie site

I'm not privy to advance screenings, so I only got a chance to see Pixar's latest film Wall-E today.

I have been a huge fan of Pixar over the years. To my mind, The Incredibles is perhaps one of the most perfect films made for any audience and on a par with Mary Poppins or It's a Wonderful Life (or even Apocalypse Now if you want to go there). Pixar's sheer output of good to excellent movies is staggering. But I have observed a kind of "Circle of Life" rule that operates in the movie business where any successful artistic enterprise eventually begins to believe its own hype, become more complacent or self-indulgent, and thus sow the seeds of its own demise. To my mind (and I was almost alone in my assessment), I saw sad confirmation of this in Finding Nemo, a film, admittedly gorgeous to look at - I mean we're still talking about Pixar - where comedy and high concepts were sacrificed for Berkeley-esque platitudes about "special needs" and inclusiveness. Ironically to me, Nemo was almost universally hailed as the studio's masterpiece and, I believe, is still its most profitable film. Even though Brad Bird has been a real shot in the arm, Pixar's track record has been spotty but above average ever since, and has I think reached a new low with WALL-E.

As a mere consumer of films I enjoy and judge a film for what it is saying up on the screen. Like Nemo, WALL-E is a beautiful film with nothing to say. Perhaps there were too many hands involved: it seems they were trying to make an environmental film but economic concerns forced them to hedge their bets (or perhaps "code their message" so that only the faithful would be in on it) until they were left with nothing but a Chaplinesque love story. Again, this film has been praised to the skies, though perhaps more praised than watched, and I can only wonder where the studio is headed. Redemption from the aforementioned rule and trend reversals are always possible (think of Disney's "The Little Mermaid" or even the Coen brother's "Fargo"), but I have seen no one even acknowledge this problem at Pixar.

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