So things looked set for WALL·E to be one of the best Pixar films yet. Despite what the critics are saying, hailing it as the best Pixar film ever and so on, I have to say I think it's one of the worst.
In the audience I watched the film with the reaction for the Pixar short was superb, much laughter and big belly laughs from kids and adults alike, and for WALL·E, the Disney-Pixar main feature, the kids laughed and there were giggles from the adults. The two reactions were noticeably different.
Watching the Pixar short before hand I did get the feeling that this was undeniably Pixar, the pace, the adult humour mixed with the childish humour, the excellent personalities of the characters, and the superb storytelling.
With WALL·E I really felt that this was a Disney film. Yes there was the amazing animation, the personalities were there, even if they were extremely childlike and dripping with cuteness, and the child humour. However also there was a moral with the subtlety of a shed load of bricks wrapped in concrete, a distinct lack of any real feeling of peril or tension, and an underlying story that has been seen many times before.
Before I go through all that though, let's look at the short playing before the film, Presto. The story is about a Magician and his rabbit. Before each performance Presto always feeds the rabbit as incentive, but this time he's in a rush and forgets. Once he's tested out his magic hats, which allow the rabbit to appear on stage, he races out on the stage and the rabbit is none too pleased.
So he sets about getting his revenge, and what sweet and superb revenge it is.
This is a superb opening short, first of all the animation is superb. The detail and depth is very good while still retaining that cartoon feel, and very quickly we see the personalities of the two characters.
Story wise the set-up is easy, quick, and humorous. Within the opening few scenes we know the relationship between the two, how the trick is going to work, and what they feel about each other before they step out on stage. The film quickly embodies the characters and the story so it can get straight to the action.
The action is wonderfully imagined and visualised, and the direction of the animation really does create a strong cinematic feel, complimenting the pace and the storytelling.
It carries some classic cartoon moments mixed with some wonderfully inventive Pixar twists. This is Pixar at its best, and it's beautiful and hilarious.
A fantastic short film that is superbly written and wonderfully animated. Huge laughs, extremely clever, and perfectly Pixar.
So to WALL·E. The story is pretty simple. Humans have consumed and laid bare the Earth. With one corporation pretty much controlling the entire planet, they have made a consumer focused, entirely disposable and incredibly lazy race of creatures, and because of that the planet has become filled with rubbish and waste.
The corporation has taken care of this though, and created a race of robots that will clean up the waste and make the planet wonderful again. In the meantime they're going to send the human race into space for an extended cruise and they can return when the job is done.
We open on WALL·E who is one of these robots left to clean up the world, but he seems to be the last one working as all the other robots have worn out or been destroyed. In the time on the planet that the robot has spent alone something wonderful has happened, he's developed a personality, a human personality.
One day WALL·E is surprised when another ship arrives on the planet, and a new sleek robot appears. Instantly he's inquisitive and curious, and above all, in love.
When the film opens you are pretty much in awe. The detail and the amazing depth of field in the animation is stunning, there is no doubt about that, and Pixar have excelled here. It looks the most realistic animation that we've seen to date.
Once we leave WALL·E's opening sequences and the planet Earth it did feel as though the animation took a step back towards the more cartoony. It's interesting later on, when we start to see humans, that every shot that involves video feedback from Earth has the real life performance of Fred Willard.
Just like in the short film the personality of the characters, their motivation, and the story background is made all so easy for us to discover. We pick it up in the background and in the character's interactions with the world around them. It's beautifully done and the writers and animators excel themselves here.
The opening does feel like a series of short sketches strung together, and features just about all of the trailer footage we've seen. In fact some of the sketches seem to have been derived from the test animation that Pixar produce when designing characters. It's not all that bad though as it really does manage to create the character of WALL·E and set him up for the entire film.
However it does seem that as soon as the spaceship lands and the new robot arrives, that there's a shift in the film. I felt it during the chase sequence between WALL·E and the new robot, Eve. WALL·E begins to follow her, watching her actions and becoming more and more fascinated with her, and it was during this sequence that I started to become frustrated.
It seemed to go on too long and labour the point, once it had shown us what was happening between the two characters it seemed to keep at it, just to make sure we knew. For me the subtlety and cleverness was beginning to fade already, and WALL·E was becoming far too cute as he cowered from her every glance.
In fact that is a very big issue I had with the film overall, the cute factor. With both robots carrying child like voices, the defective robots having very menial defects, even the most dangerous of robots being powerless, it all felt too safe and cute, killing any sense of danger and tension.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the characters connect and the story takes off, perhaps it was due to all the trailers and pre-release material that concentrated on the beginning with WALL·E and also how much they made the characters real before we even got to the film. Very clever marketing indeed.
Story wise I felt that we'd seen it all before, oh sure there's the robots, the space story, the wasted planet, and so on, but I felt we'd seen so much of the core story before, and unlike previous Pixar films I wasn't being drawn into the characters and felt left to the story itself, and it didn't feel very special.
To make matters worse, throughout the film I felt the triggers being hit and my strings being pulled at all the key points in the story, and a feeling of being manipulated haunted me from the moment that WALL·E first met Eve.
Then there's the moral of the story. Now I don't mind saying that I totally agree with the message, whatever your beliefs about the reports and the causes, and what's really happening, our wasteful, dumping and short sighted ways need to change. However the moral is so big and bold it's far from both subtle and Pixar. It gets rammed at the audience time and time again and it does feel pretty tiring as the film progresses.
I have to mention the closing titles. They were great fun and for the first half continued the story for the audience in a very interesting origin type style. The latter half was fun and clever, but very repetitive and in the audience I watched the film with no one but me sat through all of them.
This is definitely the most child friendly of Pixar films, and while that's not a great negative, it does detract distinctly from what Pixar have been. They've managed to become synonymous with bringing a range of humour to a story and managing to build layers of comedy to different ages without detracting from any of the other elements of the story, as well as creating amazing characters in compelling worlds brought alive through stunning animation.
Yet WALL·E just doesn't hold that same attraction for me and it really is the least appealing Pixar film I've seen. Still, with the amazing animation early on and the child friendly sickly sweet story with unsubtle moral throughout, it's not a particularly bad film, just a Disney film with Pixar animation.