Although most of us run from fix-ups, even if they are preferable in my humble opinion to speed-dating, matchmaking websites, and singles bars, imagine what a tough sell it would be to try and set up a friend like WALL-E. The pitch would have to be well-rehearsed but would most likely go something like this: “I know this great guy. Well, he’s self-employed which in our technology driven society is really impressive… oh, well, technically he’s in waste allocation, actually. He loves movies—Hello Dolly is his favorite and he listens to show-tunes all day. Yes, I’m sure he likes females. Other hobbies? Well, he collects things… oh, um sporks, Rubik’s Cubes, bras, bowling pins, Zippo lighters. Personality? Well, he’s someone of few words, kind of a loner… no, actually, he doesn’t really have any friends but you just know he’s one of the good ones. Wait-- where are you going?”
Needless to say, if WALL-E lived in today’s society and not seven hundred years in the future, he’d be the prime candidate to star in a modern remake of the Ernest Borgnine classic Marty. If you know, it was animated by those wizards at Pixar who by now probably have so many awards that they could possibly build an entire studio out of gold. There’s just something instantly huggable about the titular lead character in their latest film WALL-E that turns viewers into the office busybody, the over-eager relative or worse, those smug married friends who all just want to see this adorable Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth-Class robot find himself a nice robotic girl already. And while we’re at it, hopefully a fellow movie buff unafraid of director Gene Kelly’s less-than-stellar 1969 Barbra Streisand film Hello Dolly and someone with whom WALL-E can roam his bleak, deserted, overwhelmingly trash filled, sundrenched and beige version of Earth set seven hundred years in the future where rampant consumerism and greed have taken the color out of everything with nary a blue sky, crystal clear lake, or flower, and one in which humankind abandoned years earlier to live blissfully ignorant, fat and happy reaping the benefits of virtual reality in space.
Far from the upbeat setting one would anticipate from the studio of Walt Disney, there’s still something surprisingly sweet, infectious, and romantic and quintessentially uplifting in its forty minute opener. And although the movie is preceded by Presto, another ingenious new short film from Pixar, it’s superfluous as the studio may have been better off dividing WALL-E into two distinct longer length short films as while the second half—despite making excellent points likening it in some critical circles to an adolescent version of An Inconvenient Truth—is shockingly bleak in its unflinching presentation of a man-made consumer driven dystopia that, while the youngest audience members won’t pick up on its true political mores, ages six through ten may be a bit too bothered by what they’re facing onscreen.
Still, it’s an outstanding and vital achievement and I can’t praise the first half enough as in contrast to its futuristic setting, WALL-E feels anachronistic yet welcomingly old-fashioned, nostalgic, wondrous in its simplicity like an animated silent film, introducing us to its oddball, outsider loner WALL-E who dutifully goes about his days compacting trash into manageable small square shapes, with absolutely zero company save for his tape recorder filled with love songs and the comforting images of Hello Dolly that delight him in the evening when he retreats to his hideout with whatever pieces of human loot he’s found that day. Therefore, when a ship arrives dropping off the sleek, blue-eyed, pristine, curvier, female robot Eve, WALL-E is determined to put his best battery forward, in making the ideal computerized first impression, yet he’s taken aback by her mission-oriented, lethal personality, shooting things at will which theoretically would have sent most men running, yet WALL-E’s off-the-charts loneliness and instant attraction causes his operating system to run wild with romantic imagery. Soon Louis Armstrong sings “La Vie En Rose” while he works to subliminally gain her interest, creating a self-statue of himself, worshipping her from afar until intimacy is sped up when he must pull her to safety to avoid a violent dust storm and sweetly, like a teenage boy on a first date, he tries to figure out the best way to inch closer to Eve and is delighted when she seems to share his Dolly enthusiasm.
Unfortunately their romance is cut short when her goal is reached and she must return home with WALL-E impulsively becoming a harmless stalker-bot, hitching a ride on her ship, only to discover life as a “foreign contaminant,” on a space station where former Earthbound humans have turned into helpless blobs living in beach styled recliners, their every whim catered to by technology, and a lifestyle best surmised by the company that sponsors it-- Buy ‘N Large. Although in his quest to win Eve’s heart or rather her memory card, WALL-E becomes the unwitting hero to help restore Earth to what it once was, but this gloomy Aldus Huxley, Orwellian like glimpse of the future and dark tone complete with allusions to everything from I Am Legend to Blade Runner to 2001: A Space Odyssey makes a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn from the way the film began and while Pixar still stands above and beyond others in offering intelligent, contemplative, and gorgeously sophisticated animation, when reviewed as an entire picture, WALL-E feels glaringly uneven and surprisingly dissatisfying with its ugly final act, despite an obligatory happy ending, yet in its brilliant opening which just consisted of WALL-E and Eve, what they managed to create is the best proof of their perfection as a studio since Finding Nemo.
Still, for younger audiences, I would recommend Kung Fu Panda, before suggesting you bring the tykes to WALL-E, with the fear that for those who are able to get the admittedly highly important politically implications that seemed inappropriate given its target audience, it may cause nightmares about an uncertain future reminiscent of the cold war scares faced by elementary school children of the baby boom generation. However, for those looking for something heartfelt and genuine, I can’t think of a better and more surprising (and therefore impressive!) date movie—far superior to the by-the-numbers rom-coms of 2008 so far—than the first half of WALL-E.
So in the end... I guess I believe in cinematic speed dating after all.