Truth at 24 frames per second

By Steve Sedlak

I don’t know where to start with “WALL-E,” the latest creation from Pixar Animation Studios. “WALL-E” may not be art cinema, but it must be something special considering its spot at number 30 on IMDb’s Top 250 list, between “Citizen Kane” and “The Matrix.” Of course, it’s easy to discredit this list-it claims “The Dark Knight” is the fourth best movie of all time (just after “The Godfather: Part II” and right before “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”).Whether or not it deserves this ranking, “WALL-E” tells the simple, charming tale of a lonely trash robot on planet Earth, hundreds of years from now. Earth has been covered in waste and can no longer support life (as a wonderfully designed scene with a holographic TV screen tells us). Humans have boarded large cruise-ship-like vessels and are waiting in outer space for things to cool down while little robots, like Wall-E, take care of the mess at home.

One day, Eve appears, a probe searching for plant life on earth. Wall-E falls in robot love with Eve and shows her a plant he found in an abandoned refrigerator. Getting this plant where it needs to go becomes Wall-E and Eve’s “directive.”

There is a certain joy in the way “WALL-E” tells its story. Strangely enough, while the story world of “WALL-E” takes us hundreds of years into the future, some of the film’s techniques date back nearly 80 years in filmic history. It’s difficult to watch “WALL-E” and not recall the Chaplin films of the ’20s and ’30s. One can’t resist the charm of the movie’s reworking of silent film technique. Much in the same way that Wall-E religiously watches clips from the failed movie musical “Hello, Dolly!” (1969), it is as though someone at Pixar picked up something old and almost forgotten in this film and revived it beautifully.

One of the biggest arguments I’ve heard against “WALL-E” is whether it is pro-environmentalist propaganda or not. Well everyone, I have news for you: movies have never been a neutral ground for some perverted Kantian worldview of aesthetics. Every film makes an argument for a certain way of “seeing” things, whether we like to admit it or not. Science fiction has always been a fertile ground for satire, but satire only means as much as its audience lets it.

It’s hard not to smile at the end of “WALL-E”. Things are beginning again, much in the same way that Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard walk down the long road to somewhere at the end of “Modern Times.” It’s the depths of the Depression and this ragamuffin couple is back on the streets again, but though they don’t even have a roof to live under, they still have each other. Similarly, “WALL-E” ends with an extreme tracking shot away from the earth’s surface set to a sweet lullaby from “Hello, Dolly!”. Humans may have caused the wreck of this planet (it ain’t no Buckingham Palace anymore), but they can fix it by waking up from rampant consumerism and realizing the value of relationships.

In the same way that Wall-E learns what it is to hold hands by watching an old forgotten movie filled with well-intended Technicolor magic, human beings might be better off by looking both forward and backwards in time and learning from it.

I don’t mean to be explicitly humanist, or someone easily convinced by the story world of the movies, but what else is there?