You have to pity the producers of WALL-E, the latest computer-animated offering from the enviable partnership of Disney and Pixar. Despite the relative flop of their 2006 outing Cars, this pairing has a great track record of churning out the likes of The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, A Bug’s Life, and the Toy Story films. They have produced a genuinely good, technically complex children’s film every year or two for a decade and having only one partial failure is something most studios can only dream of.
The trouble for the team behind WALL-E is that this string of successes culminated last year in Ratatouille. It was an Oscar-winning film of such trans-generational appeal and that received such universal critical praise, that it has already been lauded as an all-time classic, worthy of a place amongst the true Hollywood greats. Ratatouille was an enormous hit and the really surprising thing about the film was that few cinema-goers seemed to come away disappointed, despite the critical hyperbole and hugely raised expectations. It is, in other words, an insanely tough act to follow.
And Disney/Pixar hasn’t made it easy on itself with this offering. While Ratatouille had an obviously lovable furry critter for a star, with plenty of cute and funny dialogue to suck in the audience, this is an all or nothing affair. It has a small voice cast; the only two recognisable names are Sigourney Weaver and John Ratzenberger (Cliff from TV classic, Cheers) and a lead character that has no dialogue at all. Can the Disney/Pixar magic produce one of those rare characters that can generate universal appeal without any lines? Can they really pull off the cross between Star Wars’ R2D2 and the ultimate loveable alien E.T. that they’ve evidently been pushing
for in this movie?
This is Pixar we’re talking about. It’s the company that first attracted attention back in 1986 with an Oscar nomination for a groundbreaking two minute computer-animated film about a pair of angle-poise lamps, the same sort of lamp that now forms part of the company’s logo. If anyone can create the new R2D2 or the new E.T., it’s these guys. Writer/director Andrew Stanton, the man responsible for Finding Nemo and the screenplays of the Toy Story films (among others) is certainly one of the best placed to work the Pixar magic. Having been with the company for over twenty years, he’s one of the most experienced computer animation directors in the business.
And so, with a track record that can’t be beaten, what’s the film’s set-up? As with all Pixar movies, it’s deceptively simple – a robot has been left on its own and forgotten for 700 years, tasked with tidying up a vast pile of space junk. Over the centuries, this rusty little machine has gradually grown his own personality and begun to crave love and friendship. And then, one day, a space ship arrives.
The plot development barely matters; it is all in the execution. And this is, as with all Pixar movies, done with such style that they make it seem almost easy. What they’ve ended up with is the kind of simple, accessible and instantly loveable character and film that children will adore and adults will find entertaining. Perhaps it’s no masterpiece, but with a track record as good as this lot’s, it’s hard to do better than they have done already. To equal their past achievements, as this does with ease, is a feat in itself. If you have kids, this is a summer movie must.