Thursday, April 22, 2021

Reserved Seating Ranks the Pixars: WALL-E

 by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino

The review duo who have cockroach sidekicks.

Rob: Welcome back to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: Our dive into the world of Pixar continues with 2008’s WALL-E, directed by studio luminary Andrew Stanton and co-written by Stanton and Jim Reardon. Its story begins in the early 22nd century, after the excesses of human civilization have finally rendered the planet Earth unlivable. Knowing that apocalypse is imminent, the global conglomerate Buy-N-Large (which effectively acts as the government) constructs giant luxury liners meant to sustain the population in space for five years while tiny Waste Allocation Load-Lifters: Earth Class (or WALL-Es) clean up the mess. Seven-hundred years later, only one WALL-E (voiced by cinema sound legend Ben Burtt) remains, carrying on with his daily duties and completely unaware that humanity has evolved into a race of sedentary masses entirely beholden to their ships’ automation and harboring no intention to return to their ancestral home planet.

Things change for WALL-E when a probe called EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight) arrives on Earth and discovers one of the trash droid’s prized possessions: A tiny, green plant. Seeing this as proof that Earth is once again habitable, EVE returns to the luxury liner Axiom (with WALL-E, who’s smitten with EVE, in tow) to deliver the message. However, the humans aboard Axiom (among them Jeff Garlin as Captain McCrea) are not eager to give up their lives of leisure, nor are the robots who service them (led by the sinister AUTO) willing to diverge from their programming. WALL-E and EVE must then set about on a rip-roaring adventure to defeat AUTO and bring humanity home.
WALL-E is a perfect movie. There’s little else that I can say to begin. It’s thematically engaging, narratively propulsive, and its animation is simply astounding. Coming in at exactly ninety minutes, WALL-E wastes no time establishing its characters, building its world, and developing its drama. It’s darkly comedic, surprisingly satirical, and deeply — almost uncomfortably — romantic. I know that series of lists was exhausting to read and came off super douche-tastic, but it’s necessary. Every single element works. Our WALL-E is an absolutely beautiful character with whom we can immediately empathize, someone whose fervent hope for a better world makes his middling work meaningful. His wordless introduction (copied later by the likes of Up and The Force Awakens) is a masterclass in storytelling that reveals deeper layers with every re-watch. Are there maybe five pages of spoken dialogue in this whole script? I’d be surprised if it’s even that much. Not only does WALL-E rival The Incredibles and Toy Story 2 as my favorite Pixar movie, but it’s easily my favorite movie of 2008.

Well, that’s enough gushing to start. Adam, what do you think of WALL-E?

Adam: I love it too, but it took me some time to get there. I felt sort of distant from WALL-E back in 2008 because it was such a critical darling and the movie didn’t give me similar butterflies in my stomach. For a long time, I didn’t revisit the movie but did on a flight to Orlando a couple of summers ago (I was primed for Pixar since I was on my way to visit Walt Disney World) and I started to really like the movie. This recent viewing, only my third, was the one that made me absolutely love WALL-E. I think the first two acts are better than the last one (Pixar movies - especially around this time - often led to action-centric climaxes that leave me cold compared to the heart and emotion that came before it), but the themes, characters and relationships in WALL-E are tremendous and supersede any quibbles I might have.

What gets to me the most in WALL-E are two things - 1) The relationship between WALL-E and EVE is deliberate and the two robots get to know each other as friends before becoming a couple. I like how patient it is with WALL-E showing EVE his knick knacks and trying to impress her that way and how EVE first falls for WALL-E because she finds him funny and doting. It’s a relationship where EVE has the upper-hand I would say in terms of maturity (i.e. she can take care of him more than he can take care of her), but WALL-E is all heart and that’s what EVE needs in a partner as much as anything.
Rob: Agreed, and I love that the movie takes time to include that bit with EVE watching the security footage of WALL-E caring for her while she was in stand-by mode. Too often, objects of affection are presented with the expectation that they will accept our protagonist’s love simply because the protagonist loves them. I appreciate that WALL-E takes the time to actually show EVE’s affection build on its own. OK, continue!

Adam: 2) The satiric themes that are super edgy in a couple of ways. First, the representation of humanity on the spaceship/cruise liner can be interpreted as a critique on the very people watching the movie. Second, Buy-N-Large could easily be the Walt Disney Company, who have their own ocean cruise liners, controlled theming, and dominance over consumerism. I don’t know if Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon just got away with this under their bosses’ noses or what, but it’s fascinating to see a release from a major studio directly criticizing what that studio currently represents. All of this is done too in a way that’s (as you said) propulsive and feels effortless. For as dense and satirical of a movie WALL-E is, it’s a very easy sit.

Rob: It’s such an interesting point. Maybe Disney let them get away with it because they’re confident that their eventual corporate-mandated utopia will be on Earth, rather than in space? Are they THAT hubristic? Kidding. As you said, there’s a sneaky kind of punk rock genius at play, one that avoids singling-out one specific cause for our environmental and social rot and instead presenting the inevitability of a future defined wholly by comfort and ignorance. The simple act of discovery on Captain McCrea’s part is enough to fuel a renewed interest in — as he later puts it — “life” over “survival.”

Adam: Why do you think that movie is almost uncomfortably romantic? That interpretation piqued my interest.

Rob: Oh, just the robots-in-love of it all. But, hey! No shame! Not here to yuck anyone’s yum. More than anything, WALL-E and EVE’s romance reminded me of those early adolescent years (long before anything else was on the table) when simply holding someone’s hand felt like the purest possible form of romantic expression.

So, here’s one of those questions that usually earns me jeers and recriminations from those who watch movies with me: You ever wonder what happened between now and the beginning of the movie’s timeline? There was definitely a giant war, right? Those luxury liners aren’t big enough for six billion people, so my guess is that the 1% bought their seats and the rest of us were left to die Elysium-style? To be clear: I don’t want WALL-E to go into any of this (or how reproduction works in this society), but I had to ask.
Adam: That would make sense. I never thought about it before now, but I’m guessing there was a lottery of some sort or like a jury selection where they tried to vet out which families were the most compliant. My favorite detail of the people on the luxury liner is that all the food is in a cup. It’s like Stanton and Reardon dunking on laziness.

Have you ever seen Hello, Dolly!, the movie that WALL-E watches throughout WALL-E? Every time I watch this I mean to track down Hello, Dolly! (the music is delightful) but never do.

Rob: Back when we got our Netflix through the mail, I did a month-long binge of movie musicals I hadn’t seen (Singin’ in the Rain, Cabaret, etc.), and Hello, Dolly! was definitely among them. I don’t remember a single thing about it, unfortunately, but I would happily revisit it if circumstances allowed.

Let’s close with another question: What food would you like to try in pastified cup form? Pizza sounds awful, but I could probably choke down a Thanksgiving platter. I usually just pile all those dishes on top of each other, anyway.

Adam: I think bakery items would work best. Portillos has a chocolate cake shake that’s unbelievable. I also could see myself trying anything related to reddish foods like strawberries or cherries. Red in a cup works. Blue in a cup works. I think as much as taste, it depends on how it looks aesthetically.

Rob: You know what? Just grind up a bunch of Reese’s cups, and I’ll live on that.

Adam: I’m watching a movie right now with Frank Grillo and the thought of Grillo’d Cheese Sandwich came to mind. It’s just a cheese sandwich Frank Grillo shoved into a cup.

Rob: Well, trying to follow that up would be impossible, so I’ll end it here! Our baseball series returns next week with 2011’s Moneyball, a movie that takes the boringness of baseball and adds math! I love it dearly. Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved


  1. I enjoyed reading this and being reminded of WallE, which I remember I also thought, walking out of the theater, was a "perfect movie". I think what surprised me most was 1) I liked a movie with mostly robots and almost no human dialogue (I was not a big Castaway fan). 2) The premise was so big and futuristic sci-fi but they made an almost achingly tender humanistic story out of it. I loved it.

  2. Great article as always. What a perfect movie it is. I saw it for the first time this last month or so. Purified pizza. Excellent.

  3. It's top 2 Pixar for me, tied with Inside Out, but gun to my head, I'd probably choose Wall-E, if only for the space dance scene.