Wall-E is one of those movies where the less you know about it the better you’ll enjoy it.

For that reason, I am going to give you smart shoppers out there the bottom line: I give it a thumbs up. Go see it.

If you’re the kind of person who reads reviews before seeing movies, you should probably check out Ebert and Mathews-Green’s reviews.

To these I will add only three comments:

1. Wall-E succeeds in getting audiences out of their head and into their eyeballs. It is a very non-verbal film; the screenplay (without storyboards) was probably fifteen pages. Yet it succeeds in telling (showing?) a complicated, detailed, engaging, and entertaining story. (Wall-E also gets audiences out of their heads and into their emotions, but this is an effect of a good many-films.)

2. Wall-E gets audiences out of their heads and into their bodies. Movies, like old-fashioned radio shows or modern TV, share the notorious side-effect of slowly but surely coaxing audience members into willingly forgetting their corporeal existence for the sake of the images and words streaming into their imaginative centers – we become a brain on a couch. This forgetting of the body is not only unpleasant in the long run (isn’t tennis fun ˆbecauseˆ it hurts?) but results in obesity and a split self. Now, any attempt from TV or film to counteract this effect is inevitably ironic. For some attempts, the irony kills it. (One thinks of a lengthy, colorful, entertaining infomercial “selling” it’s zombie-like audience a vigorous exercise program.) Yet some attempts embrace the irony and put it to good use. Wall-E is such an attempt. As an audience member I am supposed to ˆfeelˆ my corporeality during the movie, by contrast to the highly stylized CG reality of the film. And, if I’m listening, I’m supposed to do something about it. Take the hand of the loved one next to you. Introduce yourself to a stranger after the film. Put down your Wii remote and play some real tennis.

3. Wall-E succeeds in getting audiences out of their eyeballs and emotions and into their intellects. Sounds like a contradiction? I don’t think so. At least I know you’re awake. Wall-E is indeed non-verbal, but the filmmakers have taken all the time and energy and thought they would have invested in a script, and re-invested it into the images. As a result the visual direction is precisely, almost overwhelmingly intentional. By visually engaging these complex and often deeply meaningful images, the audience is invited to exercise a deeper kind of intelligence than that of merely following some dialogue or a plot. You must watch the scratchings on the cave wall and begin to see beyond the surface to the thought, intention, interconnectedness beneath. Along with the literally dozens of visual gags, inter-film dialogue, and political commentary, this makes Wall-E a fascinating conversation piece.

In sum,

1. see Wall-E.
2. Enter deeply into the non-verbal narrative of the story.
3. Plan for plenty of time afterwards to get coffee or dessert with friends and talk about the hundreds of clues, hints, and meaningful images.

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler


  1. I know it’s silly to comment on a movie review but, Keith, I agree with you completely about this film.

    And I cannot wait to see The Dark Knight tomorrow.



    As an audience member I am supposed to ˆfeelˆ my corporeality during the movie, by contrast to the highly stylized CG reality of the film.

    Does this intention to take you “out” of the film — to un-immerse you as the characters are un-immersed — explain the visual disjunction between the live action actor and his animated descendants?

    I feel like this bizarre “inconsistency” is the key to the film, or at least the most obvious clue to the key.

    If the people on the hover-couches are us, then is the animated captain’s (not to mention Walle’s) watching of live-action video simply the negative image of us watching animated video?


  3. I hear that this is the first instance in Pixar’s history of using a live-action shot in a film. So this supports your hypothesis.

    Don’t forget that the Hello Dolly segments are live-action too.

    Negative image, whoa! That seems right… Suppose it is for a moment. What do you make of that?


  4. Prufrock,

    Why silly? I always welcome comments, especially daring, challenging ones.


  5. My parenthetical inclusion of Wall-E’s watching of live-action was meant as a reference to Hello Dolly.

    I’m not yet sure what to make of the negative image. Does it imply that 700 years from now we will be watching ancient animated movies (specifically animated musicals?) rather than live-action ones? This is already reality for millions of parents who have to (but are actually choosing to) rewatch the same Disney movie over and over because their kids have it on. It must feel like whenever they walk in the room it is always when the same song is playing.

    The Pixar film is unclear whether the 800-year endurance of a musical like Hello Dolly — a “classic” to be sure but not necessarily great art — is a good thing. The film’s treatment of Hello Dolly is admittedly affectionate, and the lyrics gain significance with Wall-E’s life, but the incessant repetition of the same song makes it always an ironic enjoyment.

    The result seems to be a sensitive critique of nostalgia. Yes, the animated Disney musicals are classics (see Ratatouille for Pixar’s defense of the true Disney spirit) but we must not let our nostalgia blind us to assessing such movies honestly, and admitting that not every song in a classic Disney movie is itself great.

    It also critiques the Disney formula that animated films must be musicals — the trend broken by Pixar — and Wall-E (the film) reminds us yet again that it’s okay for an animated film to aim at visual beauty unadulterated by the flourishes of the musical genre. Interpolated songs, though perhaps enjoyable in the moment, result over time in becoming trite and lessening the impact of the film and distracting from its genuine qualities. The filmmed musical after all is a completely derivative form, more akin to the documentary in some ways, so Pixar’s use of the musical as “found footage” documenting a previous era is entirely appropriate and appropriately ironic.

    The jarring effect of Hello Dolly intruding every so often into this visually beautiful film, which encourages us to adopt a patronizing attitude towards Hello Dolly, is exactly what happens in many a classic animated Disney musical. Pixar is saying the time has come (finally! why has it taken so long?) for animation to treat itself as a legitimate art form without slavishly following the model that Snow White bound us all to by the historical accident of its financial success.


  6. online movies are cool but i wish the quality were better.’.,


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