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WALL•E (2008): ***½

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Why have I been dreading, dreading, dreading writing this review so much that it is now well over six months since I've seen the film? I think maybe it's because WALL•E is really two different movies back-to-back. One of them is some of the most brilliant frames of film ever projected on a screen. The other is wildly uneven, strangely focused, and like a few other recent Pixar films, kind of morally ambiguous.

Start with the start. The first half of WALL•E is unabashedly brilliant. For one thing, even though it depicts a desolate, uninhabitable wasteland of an Earth, it is breathtakingly beautiful. The visual effects team did an ungodly good job with things that we take for granted but are never really addressed in CGI movies, like heat distortion, atmospheric dust, breezes, and things like that.

The flow of the first half is unlike any American animated movie I've ever seen before, too. It isn't rushed from joke to joke or plot point to plot point. It is content to simply sit back and watch WALL•E as he goes about his daily (monthly, yearly, centuryly) routine. At first there is no punchy, fabricated excitement. Just a solitary figure doing lonely work. And it is absolutely engrossing. Kudos to the animators and Ben Burtt (the voice programmer) for making WALL•E such an instantly sympathetic and enrapturing character.

Could have done without the cockroach, though. In some ways it undermined WALL•E's lonely plight—he already had a friend.

Soon another robot enters the scene, the sleek, modern EVE. And so begins one of the most awkward, funny, and endearing romances in any movie from 2008 as WALL•E is instantly smitten with the newcomer, who at first is completely uninterested in him (isn't that always the way?). But just when EVE is beginning to warm up to WALL•E, she makes a shocking discovery and goes into hibernation mode. This sets up another wonderful, wonderful sequence in which WALL•E tries to watch over and protect EVE's inert form. Lots of comedy, and a surprising amount of pathos ensues: just when WALL•E thought he wouldn't be alone anymore, his hope is ripped away from him.

Eventually, and unfortunately, the movie develops an actual plot, and EVE is whisked away to a gigantic spaceship with an obsessed WALL•E hitching a ride along. And suddenly it's a whole new movie, with sedentary humans, evil ship AIs, fights over the fate of a tiny sapling, a damaged robot rebellion, mission parameters, secret allegiances, and the like. And WALL•E begins to get pushed further and further to the side by the mechanics of plot, and it's unfortunate.

Eventually (spoiler) WALL•E's actions and the actions they inspire end up freeing the human race and having them repopulate the Earth. But there's something interesting about the way it happens, in that WALL•E couldn't give a crap about any of it. He probably doesn't even know it's going on. He is obsessively focused only on EVE (and by extension her mission) all the way up and through the climax of the film. He knows nothing of oppressive Autopilots and their nefarious schemes to keep humanity fat & ignorant. But WALL•E's actions unknowingly affect everyone around him, and in some way inspire them. A couple of people come out of their stupor, a group of damaged robots start a rebellion, etc. The movie became kind of muddled. What is the moral of WALL•E? WALL•E cares only for his own goal, the winning-over of EVE. Is the movie trying to say that the best way to serve others it through selfishness?

I should point out now that I really very much enjoyed the 2nd half despite all of its strangeness and focus problems. But after the brilliant 1st half it was a bit of a letdown. A three-star movie tacked onto the end of a four-star movie.

Eventually the humans return to Earth to repopulate it, and in a way I didn't want them to. I kinda wanted WALL•E and EVE to come back by themselves. The humans had their chance and they blew it, hard. Why not let the robots have their turn? I mean her name is EVE fer chrissake.

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