The latest from Pixar and director Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") may not be the studio's best work, but it's a still a fascinating piece of work that takes some risks (mainly, long stretches of the film that are essentially dialogue-free.) The CG animated feature is set hundreds of years in the future, where Earth has become an uninhabitable wasteland. Piles of trash are stacked up as tall as some skyscrapers, and, amidst the rubble, a little robot named Wall-E (voiced by Ben Burtt, who was the sound designer for the "Star Wars" films) goes about his business (along with a little cockroach friend) trying to clean up what's left of the world, compacting the garbage and stacking the blocks. Meanwhile, humans have fled the planet, driven into space by the mess that they've created over the years.
Suddenly, Wall-E gets a visitor, as a giant ship lands nearby and sends out EVE (Elissa Knight), a sleek new robot sent on an unknown mission. Although EVE initially remains suspicious of the other 'bot, Wall-E is clearly smitten, and eventually catches EVE's attention. However, when EVE powers off one day and Wall-E can not get her back on again, he tries to protect his new friend - even hitching a ride when she is taken back by the ship that dropped her off, geting a stunning ride through space.
When he arrives inside the space station, Wall-E finds that humans are riding around the ship on luxury chairs, talking to each other on video phones, despite the fact that they are next to one another. Every open space is filled with ads plugging the latest products that one can find at the local BuyNLarge.
When Wall-E finally meets EVE once again, Wall-E ends up getting the two of them in trouble, sending an alert out for their capture. Along the way, the two of them find out more about what happened to Earth, and the humans - including a couple - John (John Ratzenberger) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) - realize that they've been too oblivious to the situation that humanity has found itself in for too long. However, the robots that run the ship may not take so well to humanity suddenly wanting to rise up and make an attempt to reclaim life as they once knew it.
"Wall-E"'s most impressive achievement is making a story whose two main characters are engaging and memorable, despite the fact that the two of them have dialogue that largely consists of the two of them either saying their names or a series of electronic bleeps and bloops. Wall-E and EVE, despite their limited natures, each manage to have a personality. Their romance is quite adorable (even though its told in a largely visual manner), as it's easy to care about the two surprisingly expressive robots.
This aspect of the story, while quite sweet, is not quite enough to carry the 100-minute film, however. The other aspect of the story regarding the humans is well-meaning, but a little too cartoonish at times, and the message feels rather heavy-handed. The core of the story - humans have taken to living on a ship because the Earth has become uninhabitable and are waiting for the day that they can return - has great potential, but the presentation of that idea doesn't have the epic feel it needs, and the human characters just aren't developed enough.
The animation is, of course, jaw-dropping; as remarkable as "Ratatouille" looked, "Wall-E" looks even sleeker than films past, with greater detail and remarkable lighting. The film's sound design is also terrific, as Ben Burtt ("Star Wars") creates distinctive and quite memorable sound effects for all the elements of the world of the film.
Overall, "Wall-E" does a remarkable job with the incredibly difficult task of telling a story in a largely visual manner, but there's still the feeling that some aspects of the story could have been refined (such as the tale of the humans on the ship) and at least slightly tightened up. I certainly liked this film, and aspects of it are amazing, but it didn't quite stick with me in the way that "Ratatouille" or "Nemo" - my two favorite Pixar features so far - did.
Treasures & Trinkets
Notes on a Score (Bonus)
Wall-E’s Treasures (Film)
Visual Effects (Bonus)
VIDEO: "Wall-E" is presented by Disney in 2.39:1 (1080p/AVC). As mentioned in the review, the film's animation is another jump forward for the studio, and impressive is the fact that this Blu-Ray is clearly up to the task of presenting the film's sleek visuals. The early portion of the film on a dusty, ravaged Earth has a dusty, windswept appearance and, despite the intentional haze over parts of the picture, objects still looked clean, crisp and detailed. Small object details - parts of the 'bots, items left behind in the dirt, etc - looked precise and remarkably clear. The picture boasts wonderful depth to the image, which has a three-dimensional feel throughout most of the running time.
No noise, edge enhancement or other flaws (no print flaws, given the direct-from-digital transfer) were spotted during the show. Colors looked dynamic, rich and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults. The Blu-Ray presentation looked utterly magnificent, and clearly stands out as one of the top demo discs so far for the format.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1. The film's sound design is epic in scope, remaining richly detailed at all times. Surrounds come to life with all manner of ambiance and, especially once Wall-E heads aboard the Axiom, sound effects. The rear speakers provide a constant stream of bleeps, bloops and other background details. Audio quality is exceptional, with crystal clear effects and dialogue, as well as deep bass clearly heard and felt in many scenes.
EXTRAS: Video extras are presented in HD.
Two commentaries are included on the first disc: one is from director Andrew Stanton (with picture-in-picture "Cine-Explore" feature), while the other track (another picture-in-picture track, labeled a "Geek Track") comes from four members of the Pixar team, who provide an energetic and often quite entertaining discussion of the making of the picture, providing trivia, stories and other behind-the-scenes tidbits.
The first disc also includes a pair of shorts. "Presto" (a fast, funny short about a magician whose starving rabbit turns the tables on him during their act) and "BURN-E" (a short about a robot whose work elsewhere on the ship keeps getting interrupted during the course of the "WALL-E" story.) The second disc contains an assortment of features, starting with "The Imperfect Lens" (14 minutes and "Animated Sound Design" (18 minutes). The former is an interesting look at the creation of the film's visual design, as well as how legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins provided assistance, discussing lighting techniques and other tips with the animators. The latter is equally remarkable, as it focuses on sound designer Ben Burtt, whose search for objects to create sounds in the film is quite entertaining to watch.
"Captain’s Log: The Evolution of Humans" is a 7-minute piece that sees director Andrew Stanton and other members of the crew discussing how the original, somewhat darker version of the film was going to feature aliens instead of humans. When the change was decided upon, the alien blobs were gradually adjusted until they became humans. "Notes on a Score" offers an interview with composer Thomas Newman, while "Robo-Everything" and "Life of a Shot: Deconstructing the Pixar Process" run five minutes each and take a look at all the animators whose work went into one particular scene and the supporting robot players, respectively. "Wall-E and Eve" runs about 7 minutes and provides a discussion of the inspiration for the look and actions of Wall-E & EVE, as well as how the two lead 'bots could express their feelings without saying much of anything.
4 deleted scenes are offered with intros from director Andrew Stanton, and the whole program runs around 22 minutes or so. The scenes are in various stages of completion and while they provided some fine moments, I could see why they were ultimately dropped. Five "BuyNLarge" shorts provide looks at different aspects of life in the "Wall-E" age; these are pretty interesting and give a bit of background to the story. We also get trailers (both foreign and domestic), as well as a gallery.
The "Robots" section includes four interactive games, “WALL-E Treasures and Trinkets," (a short featurette with Wall-E and friends playing around with some common items), an animated storybook, website promo and "Bot Files" (character gallery.)
"The Pixar Story" is an outstanding 90-minute documentary that looks into the history of Pixar, from its early days in the late '70's up to "Cars". The documentary is actually a little easy to pass by - literally, because it's on the second page of the "humans" section of the special features on disc 2, and it's not instantly apparent that there is a second page that needs to be scrolled down to. The documentary starts with Lasseter discussing his college experience, enrolled in a new class at Cal Arts that was taught by Disney's legendary masters of animation, the "Nine Old Men". Lasseter's classmates included Tim Burton, Brad Bird and others. While computer animation excited Lasseter and others, there was some reluctance from others about the change from traditional animation - and shortly afterwards, Lasseter was let go from the studio.
George Lucas saw the potential in computer animation and hired a small army to pull together new computer tools and techniques for use at Lucasfilm. When Lasseter left Disney, he was hired by Lucasfilm on the spot shortly after. When support wasn't there for the team to make an animated movie, it was spun-off into Pixar, who soon found their investor in Steve Jobs. While "Toy Story" was initially more edgy due to studio request, the film as we know it eventually started to take shape after the "edgy" version didn't go over well.
After "Toy Story", the animators celebrated and moved into new offices, but then realized that they would have to try to capture the same sort of magic again. Despite difficulties both technical and otherwise, "Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2" managed to impress greatly. The documentary then takes viewers through the production of "Nemo", "Monsters" and other features from the studio, as well as the break from (and return to) partnering with Disney. The documentary ends at "Cars".
The third disc offers a digital copy of the film to download. The first disc is also BD-Live enabled.
Overall, this was an outstanding documentary that provided a fascinating and engaging look at the history of this company. The documentary even has a nice momentum, too - this is clearly not a "talking head" interview doc or promotional piece, and smoothly flows from one topic to another. This is really one of the best bonus documentary features I've seen in a while.
Final Thoughts: While "Wall-E" doesn't rank as my favorite of Pixar's efforts, it remains a very cute, very charming story, presented with absolutely stunning animation. The Blu-Ray edition boasts splendid, demo quality video and audio, as well as a ton of extra features. Recommended.
The Film B+