A Box and His Oval Friday.
Hello. I’m new.
This is the last post on Wall*E, I promise.
Speaking recently with Joie about a completely unrelated film, I realized that among the mess of cinema that I have experienced in my life, the films that I value most – that remain bubbling about at the top of my mental archive for some time after a first viewing – are films that I have enjoyed on a fairly basic, visceral level. These are films that have a sort of intoxicating affect on me that does not necessarily have anything to do with the work as it exists on an intellectual plane. I remain most attached to films that have gotten under my skin in an abject, immediate fashion; to films that relax me bodily or that imprint themselves in my memory with physically associative tag. I’m not just talking about the ‘Body Genres’. It appears, as its strikes me now, that in spite of my best attempts to assume the stance of a theoretically engaged spectator, I love movies like a child. I think that an attempt to define this sort of love is particularly relevant to our discussion of Andrew Stanton’s new bit of techno-bricolage, a film that flourishes on a spirit of simplicity and is perhaps complicated unnecessarily by its eco-friendly subtext. WALL•E insists on combining real-world relevance to a completely unencumbered kind of storytelling, and accordingly has a few moments of reflexive trouble.
The type of film that WALL•E engages with most historically is the silent comedy. Chaplin, Keaton, and their contemporaries are visible here because the film encourages a drastically simple type of spectating that was default in the purest, formative stages of cinema. One does not necessarily benefit from applying tangential modes of thought, far removed from the gleeful reverie of softshoe choreography and clumsy, infatuated courtship, to CITY LIGHTS or THE GENERAL. These films are definitely complicated creations, but are profoundly rewarding in the immediate event. Their system of comedy was augmented historically by 1930/40s screwball comedy, a group of films that injected a mischievous level of dialogue and social commentary into the mix, but still amount basically to a genre about children falling in love. WALL•E shares this charming quality of relinquishing ambition – just as IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT stays on the brain because of its heady, moonlit reveries in spite of its terrific depth of social commentary. Continuing on my historical tangent, I think the best company WALL•E can claim are the films of Jacques Tati. In his films, Tati crafted a huge architectures of comedy (literally, looking at the production of PLAYTIME), films that contain depths of social commentary but float playfully along without concern for their structural levels of substance. They are biting critiques of the dizziness of modern growth, consumerism, and capitalism, but communicate a tender, profoundly hopeful idea of humanity with their equally dizzy style of humor.
As a genre film, a derivation, a sci-fi adventure, and one in that no uncertain terms hints at homage to everything from 2001, A.I., and ALIEN, to TITANIC (for fucks’ sake) WALL•E complicates its mode of comedy in a blithe Tatian style. It provides what might be considered a bit of bitchy, if humanistic, finger-pointing, but is systematically turned back around by a gleeful love story. A little garbage can crushing on an armed iPod. This formula, squeezed out of a company that still purports to make children’s films, provides a real challenge for Pixar and Andrew Stanton. However, in the end I very much enjoyed their struggle and the charming, joyful, visually lyrical strain that stands out most in the film’s apparatus.
Although I don’t think that it’s necessarily a better movie than my favorites in Pixar’s mini-canon (TOY STORY, INCREDIBLES, RATATOUILLE), WALL•E hints at a spectacular new capacity in this brand of film for complexity and stylistic daring. It’s a purely beautiful movie, full of images that actually challenge the value of live action for depth and texture, preferring a kind of romanticized photoimitation that adds new meaning to the term animation. Despite appearing to struggle a bit with how best to deliver its politicized baggage, I think the film accomplishes a successful mesh of overt satire with pure, earnest romance. Like PLAYTIME, its message is a heavy one, but the film’s heart can still be found kept securely in the body of its blundering tramp. Monsieur Hulot is swapped for a clunking, ‘Hello Dolly’-obsessed trash compactor, but its protagonist and his story are oblivious to the allegories they tread upon. The film is definitely at odds with itself in many ways; it’s literally divided in half and often struggles to reconcile its smudged, boxy, earth-colored protagonist within pristine, Macintosh-inspired ovals and a sterile sci-fi palate – perhaps we’ve found the twin fathers of Pixar, computer technology and boyish distraction, finally coming to physical odds – but in the end its more complicated textual moments do not outlast a spirit of childlike, nose-to-the-glass awe. I was particularly thankful for the film’s central, spacewalking pas-de-deux. When Eve and WALL•E dance around in space, Stanton took time to marvel at the reaching majesty of the stars, just as he contemplated the pleasant blue stretch of NEMO’s ocean. I think, finally, that WALL•E gestures energetically towards an earthly statement, but in spite of its ambition is still, thankfully, a film with its head in the clouds.