Making the Grades
From its earliest days as an animation studio, Pixar (now teamed with Disney) has had a knack for pouring life-like qualities into inanimate objects such as their trademark desk lamp. Their short films, including Presto which precedes this movie, are particularly well known for characters infused with personalities though limited on dialogue. WALL-E, the futuristic garbage collector (voice by Ben Burtt), is also brief with words but big on heart.
Working alone in a deserted cityscape, the robotic little trash compactor goes about the endless job of cleaning up after the humans, who have all rocketed off the polluted planet in hopes of finding another place to live. The sole survivor on Earth (along with his pet cockroach), WALL-E spends his evenings cataloguing his finds from the day and re-watching a video of the musical Hello Dolly. Despite being made of metal and circuit boards, he has developed a real persona during his 700 years of solitude.
But the arrival of a powerful spaceship, which deposits a sleek, mobile scanning device on the windswept surface, changes WALL-E's isolated existence. After narrowly avoiding incineration by the trigger-happy Eve (voice by Elissa Knight), WALL-E manages to exchange greetings and eventually invites Eve back to his bachelor's pad in the back of a garbage truck. Yet his awkward attempts to woo the aerodynamic android are mostly rebuffed. Her prime directive is to search for any signs of life and then relay the information back to the space vessel hovering above the junk-filled atmosphere.
A budding romance, however, is only one story line in this satire that also investigates the social concerns of a growing (in more ways than one) population. Hitching a ride to the mother ship, WALL-E is exposed to space travelers that are overweight, unimaginative, gluttonous consumers bombarded by big business sale's pitches. Glued to virtual screens that hover in front of their eyes, they're oblivious to anything around them. It is only after WALL-E unintentionally disrupts their comfy existence that the daily drudgery is exposed and the ship's captain (voice by Jeff Garlin) is forced to take the reins from the autopilot computer (voice by Sigourney Weaver).
For adult viewers, the film provides a playful, if sometimes weighty, commentary on the future. Unfortunately, at times it loses itself in the litter and belabors the burgeoning waistlines of the displaced Earthlings a little too long. Frequent perilous situations and a gun-toting droid who likes to shoot first and ask questions later may also be frightening for young audience members.
While the script deviates by degrees from the witty one-liners and quick paced jokes the company is known for, it still offers amazing animation, clever personification of machinery and endearing characters that are faithful to Pixar standards. Although less lighthearted than its predecessors (among them Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille), this creative and engaging social commentary proves to be anything but rubbish.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about WALL-E.
What does WALL-E learn about human interactions from watching the video of the musical Hello Dolly? How does he try to emulate that in his relationship with Eve? Although he has all the stuff in the world, why does he still crave contact with another being?
How do the film’s producers develop their characters’ personalities, even with very little dialogue? How do facial features, tone of voice and inflections all contribute to communication?
The moviemakers address social concerns such as consumerism, waste, interference from big business, lack of physical fitness, institutionalized childcare and the addiction to screens and virtual worlds. Which of these issues do you think is our biggest concern? What changes should be made to protect our current society from ending up like the characters in this film who are forced to flee from Earth?