Monday, July 28, 2008

WALL-E on loving and serving others

From Megan Basham in World...

You have to hand it to Pixar. Since Woody and Buzz Lightyear first charmed audiences in Toy Story, the studio has consistently managed to create characters that are imaginative, intelligent, and hugely popular. Despite the vast sums its movies gross, Pixar has yet to give in to the temptation to churn out a quick copy of a past hit to turn an even quicker buck. Instead, from The Incredibles to Ratatouille, each of its productions feels like a carefully considered original. WALL•E, which [hit] theaters on June 27, is no exception.

In the last few years, animated movies have been characterized by a kind of hyper-wordplay with the most frenetic comedic actors filling the main roles (think Shrek, Happy Feet, or, most recently, Kung-Fu Panda). Director and screenwriter Andrew Stanton takes WALL•E in a completely different direction. Throughout the film, the last little robot on an abandoned Earth says no more than a handful of words (though he says those few many, many times). Instead, as a near-genius score plays in the background, WALL•E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) communicates almost entirely with facial expressions and movement.

Even when he meets EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), and leaves Earth to follow her to a densely populated cruise ship in space, the film's reliance on physicality rather than on words doesn't change. At times, as the little trash compactor interacts with a delightful array of robots—each manifesting its own unique personality with whirs and tilts—WALL•E plays like a new breed of silent film.

Another quintessential Pixar quality is how complex its themes tend to be compared to most kids' entertainment. Not many animated movies are told from the perspective of the parent, like Finding Nemo, rather than child. Nor have many championed achievement rather than fairness, like The Incredibles. And though on the surface WALL•E looks like it's selling the easiest, trendiest message going today—environmentalism—it's too smart for that.

True, the foundation for the story is that humanity has left the planet heaped in garbage. But far weightier themes—like how technology distances us from the wonder of creation and how that distance cripples us spiritually—play a bigger role. In fact, if Stanton criticizes people for anything, it's for worship of leisure. Because they live to be cared for rather than to care, the few human beings WALL•E meets have become, to use Stanton's words, giant babies—literally feeding on milk rather than solid food. In contrast, WALL•E, the meek little trash collector, accepts stewardship in a way that people have rejected. And because love springs from service, he comes to love the creatures that inhabit Earth. That's not an environmental message, it's a biblical one.


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