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Wall.E

Year: 2008
Production Co: Pixar
Studio: Walt Disney
Director: Andrew Stanton
Producer: John Lasseter
Writer: Andrew Stanton/Pete Docter
Cast: Ben Burtt, Fred Willard, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver
The law of diminishing returns seems to be applying to Pixar as much as M Night Shyamalan these days. My own very subjective anecdotal evidence has turned up more people who didn't like this movie than any of their others. It also hasn't blitzed the box office like their other efforts seem to.

The story was launched from a few imaginative ideas, among the simplest of which was the idea of what would happen to the last working machine if humans left earth and forgot to turn it off. In the film, a small garbage compacting robot called Waste Allocating Load Lifter - Earth Class (Wall.E) has been going about his business for 700 years since humanity abandoned an Earth overrun with pollution, garbage and presumably greenhouse gas, compacting small cubes of garbage and building skyscraper-sized stacks of them.

He lives in an abandoned transporter in the middle of a smashed highway, emerging every morning to recharge his solar cell and go about his business. After so long however, something's happened to Wall.E, and in a sweet leap of imagination that's never explained, he's become curious and romantic, dreaming about being in love thanks to an old VCR copy of Hello, Dolly, spending his days in the company of a pet cockroach and collecting things that take his fancy for storage in his little home.

One day like any other a huge starship lands nearby, and Wall.E is smitten with Eve (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) the sleek white being that emerges to survey Earth for life.

After some mishaps and lingering glances, Eve is called back to her base, with Wall.E hanging on to the side of her huge craft for dear life, whereupon it blasts into space to return to the massive space cruiser where the human race now lives, all too fat to walk, their every whim and desire met with technology.

For some reason that's never really explained, the machines don't want the vegetation common knowledge so as to not return to Earth and the humans, led by the Axiom captain, have to take control back off them to return to the long-promised home planet they don't even realise they missed.

And all the while, Wall.E and Eve fall further into the most bizarre but among the most heartfelt kinds of love you've seen on film.

I have a theory about why Wall.E will be one of Pixar's lesser films. With so much about technology, machinery, robots and the far future, it's less a family movie as most of their films have been and more a boys' movie. The technical aspects of the movie - both within the movie itself and in the animation quality and design of the long-abandoned Earth - are brilliant, in fact the best part of it.

But the story is still a very neat knick-knack box of ideas that all slot together pitch perfectly, and what really strikes you is how heavy with symbolism, allegory and subtext it is.

There's the hegemony of the market on civil life, thanks to the global conglomerate Buy and Large who seems to make everything, complete with a CEO (Fred Willard) who appears behind a podium and seal much like the US President. There's the almost constant theme of old vs new, with Wall.E like an old Apple II or early Machintosh, all battered charm complete with the Apple start-up chime, and the sleek, white-bodied, iMac-like Eve.

When we join humanity, the subtext about over-reliance on technology is deafening, the citizens of this entirely automated and managed world not even aware of the tactile experience around them as they live in hover-chairs paying attention to screens projected in front of them for all their communications and other human pursuits, attended by ubiquitous robotic servants.

There's a strong comment on non-conformity, most evident in the 'let the inmates run the asylum' device where the robots who are in for repair are inadvertently let loose to create havoc and become a misfit club along with Wall.E and Eve when they go rogue to stay away from the ubiquitous security robots.

There's even a little device about thinking outside the square, the robot armies making their way around the great ship by lighted tracks on the ground - the kind modern factories loved in the late 90s. When a tiny cleaning robot called Mo steps of the track, an alarm sounds, but after looking this way and that to his terror he can see the sky hasn't fallen.

Most interesting of all however is the breathtaking hypocrisy about a movie that comes from a studio that's so inextricably linked to a company (Apple) who's entire reason for being is all the 'bad' things the film cleverly warns us about.

If you can tune all that out and like the movie despite itself, you'll enjoy some of the best animation on screen so far in movie history - better than any other Pixar effort - and some momentous world-building. The sound effects, physics and movement of the universe within the story are awesome, and like always, it's been very well written and executed.

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