Tuesday, July 01, 2008

In the words of the old song...

...you gotta have heart.

The song was talking about making up a winning baseball team; I'm talking about creativity.

In these times when actresses like Angelina Jolie and Lucy Liu are billed as "starring" in animated films, there is a purity to Wall-E almost to the point of radicalism.

That's the thing about Pixar and why they're the heir apparent to Disney when Walt was alive. Yes, they can make some beautiful visuals. But though I would never belittle that accomplishment by saying that it’s easy, it’s not why they're so far ahead of the likes of DreamWorks and Marvel (who have released some good movies too, don't get me wrong).

We, as a culture, spend too much time talking (and hearing) about invention and not enough about imagination. You cannot, simply cannot, create from your head. It just doesn't work that way.

I think that's why I've found myself with so little desire to see the new Indiana Jones movie. I may be wrong, because as I say I haven't seen it, but I get an overwhelming sense of heartlessness from it. I can't think of one reason it exists except to separate a new generation of families from their cash.

Wall-E exists (and here I'm speculating, as I've not yet seen this discussed in the press) to challenge the Pixar animators, who could've just kept making Toy Story sequels...not, as they say--albeit in a different context--that there's anything wrong with that (Toy Story 2 was that rare sequel that topped the original).

The challenges were these: Could they make a movie that has almost no dialogue? Could they make it without "star" voices in the leads? Could they make it a real romance between…robots?

Other studios might have tried one or another of these things, but all three?

And damned if it doesn't work.

This is a romance. BTW, if you want to get all technical about how did the robots acquire personalities, why is one a "boy" robot and the other a "girl" robot...you have no business looking at this movie.

If you want your robot to be logical, a heartless automaton, Clone Wars is opening next month.

And don't listen to critics who want to somehow elevate the experience by claiming it's an ecological parable of some kind, or a "send-up." Nonsense. I say again: It's a romance.

Not because it is the story of a lonely robot who finds a girlfriend, although it is. The two meet when she, a probe-robot, is the first visitor to Earth in centuries. There, he, a trash-collector and compactor, is the last active robot, and very nearly the last living thing on the planet, apart from his friend the surprisingly sympathetic cockroach.

But it’s a romance because it has adventure, sparks and excitement, and yet there's a sadness to it, but also a giddiness, too and because it's all heart. It feels, in other words, very much like a first love. And that's only a send-up to those who can no longer remember.

Wall-E dares to tell most of its story without dialogue, a difficult task even if your stars are Oscar-nominated actors. But when your title character has very little of what we would usually call a face?

Still, he may not have much of a face, but one (or two) things Wall-E does have are a couple of eyes as expressive and subtle as a Chuck Jones-animated Bugs Bunny. If the eyes are the window to the soul, as the old saying goes, then Wall-E is all soul, and that soul is all nobility.

But only a toad would write about Wall-E without mentioning his romantic interest, Eve-A. I've seen one academic Feminist blogger who I can only hope (and do think) is not indicative of a wider response taking the film to task because Wall-E is the protagonist, not Eve-A.

I mean this: I don't understand what she was talking about. Eve-A is the best female film romantic lead in years. She's perceptive, powerful, and she has direction separate from her "man."

I don't think you can say that about the Sex & the City gals, for example.

I asked that above-referenced blogger if a great many of her problems with the film wouldn't have gone away if it were just titled Wall-E & Eve-A. I think there's a good case to make that it should've been.

In terms of the changes they both go through--which I've always felt is the best way to tell your protagonists--they are just about equal. In fact, Eva may change more than Wall-E over the course of the film.

A word about sentiment. Wall-E is not a good movie to go to if you think you're too big for sentiment. When I say that, I'm talking about earned sentiment that makes your soul sing, not the sticky variety that feels like it's caught between your teeth.

Sentiment that exists because you have been made to care about characters, to want them to do well, and to earn a place in each other's hearts. I can't remember the last time I've said "Oh..." so much at a movie. And again: I'm talking about robots.

But what priceless robots they are.

1 comment:

jeopardygirl said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Ben. I saw it this afternoon. And I hope you will understand what I mean when I say WALL-E is not a movie, it's A FILM.