The problem with Pixar is that they always teeter on the verge of brilliance, but never make it. There are pressing commercial demands to be met. In this case, Pixar caters to the consumerist guilt of fat Americans, who will go to WALL-E so they may ”engage” with the film’s politically correct ecology. One according to which the energy problem comes not from economic exploitation, but from the failure of the general population to recycle.
What’s nearly brilliant about WALL-E is the way it uses the language of animation (first discovered by Charlie Chaplin) to create a complex choreography. There is very little talk, except for some coy buzzing and bleeping. The film unfolds through pantomime, making good use of the mise-en-scene to create an allegory of the Apocalypse. In some special moments, when the director drops all pretense of story, movement and sound accomplish a total synergy.
Then in a move which felt avant-garde for a big studio like Pixar, the early scenes are shot by a candid camera (as in reality TV), suggesting not so much audience voyeurism as an omniscient Machine-Camera. This is later supported by the reference to Stanley Kubrick’s Hal, the robotic control freak from 2001:A Space Odyssey. The trick never gets as subtle as it did in independent films, but for a mainstream animation, it’s pretty daring.
The second, ”environmental” part of the movie is a rather weak parody wherein the humans of the future appear as half-paralyzed slugs living on a spaceship. This is where the 1950s Americana comes in, readers, for Pixar’s brand of social critique is a subliminal advertisement for 1950s consumerist bliss. It’s very important that Americans should feel that their country still stands for a middle class Paradise in the midst of the Iraqi war.
Set design draws on the obsessive scavenging of the 1980s and of course, it re-brands Lucas’s STAR WARS and Spielberg’s EXTRATERRESTRIAL abundantly. Yet the parody neither made me laugh nor did it get me to sweat over issues: as it turns out, humaneness will triumph in the end and the exiled people will return from the City in the Clouds to Mother Earth. Wall-E shall overcome his Oedipus complex, be reborn, and the story of Adam and Eve shall recommence.
Among the many opportunities missed was a bleak ending (which the makers originally intended) with WALL-E completely losing his hard disk and his memories of being human. With such an ending, the film would have stayed truer to its origins in 1980s apocalyptic science fiction.