Friday, June 17, 2011

WALL-E/Presto (short)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/29/08 w/ Additional Edits.


Throughout the collection of films Pixar Studios has made over the years, the 3D computer-animation studio has always been in the foreground of groundbreaking animation to enhance worldly stories that audiences can enjoy. Whether it's about toys being supportive of another, bugs fighting grasshoppers, monsters protecting children, a fish trying to find his son, a family of super heroes fighting evil, a car learning about life from other cars, or a rat who wants to become a chef. These stories have been in the heart and minds of the people who created these amazing stories as another one is about to emerge about the last robot on Earth named WALL-E.

Directed by Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton with a script co-written with Jim Reardon based on Stanton and Pete Docter's original story, WALL-E tells the story of the last working robot named WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class) on Earth whose job was to clean-up the place to make the planet habitable again. Yet, when a robot named EVE arrives to check on the planet, WALL-E falls for her until she has to return to outer space as WALL-E decides to join her to explore the world of outer space. A part-sci-fi film and a part-love story, WALL-E is a film that takes Pixar's animation style to new heights.

Accompanied with a short film called Presto, written and directed by Doug Sweetland about a magician. With a voice cast that features longtime Pixar regular John Ratzenberger plus Jeff Garlin and Elissa Knight along with cameo voices and appearances by Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver, and Fred Willard. Finally, in the voice of the title character and other characters, legendary sound designer Ben Burtt. WALL-E is a magnificent, spectacular, and heartwarming film from Andrew Stanton and Pixar.

Presto


A magician is having show in a big theater as his big trick is to pull a rabbit out of his top hat. The problem is that the rabbit is hungry for a carrot and when the magician decides to pull his magic trick. The rabbit refuses to cooperate leading to mayhem as all the rabbit wants is a carrot. The magician tries to take control but instead finds himself pulling other things and such leading the audience to be entertained.

The short film written and directed by Doug Sweetland is truly entertaining as it revolves on slapstick comedy and light-hearted entertainment. Presto is a great accompanying short film to the more epic, emotionally-laden feature film WALL-E.

WALL-E

It's 2815 as Earth is in ruins where it's surrounded by garbage and strong dust winds. Humans have left the planet on a bunch of space ships called the Axiom prompting robots to clean up the planet. Yet, only one named WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class) is the only working as he's developed emotions over his curiosity over his surroundings. With a pet cockroach, WALL-E spends a lot of time alone as he does his job, finds things, and watch Hello, Dolly! to learn about human interaction. Then one day, a spaceship lands on Earth to drop a probe known as Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator aka EVE (Elissa Knight) to find signs of life. WALL-E falls for the sleek, rounded-looking robot who can fly and probe things while also carrying a laser gun. WALL-E falls for the robot as he tries to get her attention with mixed results as he later saves her from a dust storm. EVE becomes fascinated by WALL-E's home as he presents her a plant that he had found earlier as she suddenly shuts down.

WALL-E devotes his time toward EVE until she's taken from the spaceship that brought her as he stows away on the ship amazed by the world he's encountering. Finally arriving into the Axiom, WALL-E follows EVE as he encounters various robots including an obsessive-compulsive cleaning robot named M-O (Ben Burtt) and a couple of humans named John (John Ratzenberger) and Mary (Kathy Najimy). WALL-E's encounter with the two humans have awoken them from their consumer-driven yet lazy lifestyle as like all humans on the ship, have become morbidly obese as WALL-E even brings some spark into the ship's captain (Jeff Garlin) who becomes obsessed with the knowledge when he learns of the few samples that WALL-E had brought was dirt. Realizing that the plant that was inside EVE had disappeared, WALL-E had caused more trouble prompting him to leave the ship until they learned that a little robot named GO-4 had the plant and was trying to get rid of it.

Realizing that the robot AUTO was trying to get rid of the plant under the order of Earth's old leader Shelby Forthright (Fred Willard). EVE and WALL-E try to stop AUTO with help from the captain, malfunctioning robots, and other humans. Even as WALL-E becomes the little robot who makes a major difference to bring humans back to Earth.

Science-fiction is a genre that usually explores huge themes about alienation, dystopia, and other social issues where often, the look and feel of sci-fi films are often cold and desolate. Then some of those films are geared for entertainment in the form of movies like Star Wars. What makes WALL-E stand out among all of these classic sci-fi films is the fact that it has a very simple plot. It's about a robot who has been alone for 700 years as he falls for another robot and goes onto a journey to win her over and to try and save the world. Writer-director Andrew Stanton along with co-screenwriter Jim Reardon,co-story writer Pete Docter, Jim Capobianco, who does the film's final credit sequences, create a story that is truly universal but at the core of the film is the love story between WALL-E and EVE.

The first thirty-forty minutes of the film set on Earth has very little spoken dialogue with the exception of robotic voices. What that sequence explores is WALL-E's loneliness and what does he do until he meets EVE as he falls for her and show her the world outside of what she's programmed to do. WALL-E is a character who isn't great looking as his look is kinda square with the head of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit but has a lot of personality and a curiosity that audiences can relate to. When EVE is introduced, she has this clean, polished, rounded, sleek look to her where she is here to do her job. Her character goes through the biggest development as she goes from a robot programmed to do her job to becoming someone who realizes there is more to do as she starts to fall for WALL-E.

When the film's second act takes place in outer space and the Axiom spaceship. The film does go into a bit of social commentary and dystopia but it's done with a bit of humor and satire. The concept of humans becoming morbidly obese, sitting on floating chairs and drinking mashed up food as they're manipulated by consumerism is a cautionary tale. Yet, it doesn't hit the audience over the head of what might happen as the focus is still on WALL-E who manages to bump into a few people and wake them up. Stanton and Reardon's script is filled with all of these themes of sci-fi while adding loads of genres ranging from adventure to romance with characters that audiences can root for as the script and story itself is truly universal.

Then there's Stanton direction that clearly raises the bar of what 3D computer-animation can do as well as what the science fiction genre can do as well. Taking elements from many classic science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris (both the 1972 & 2002 version), The Omega Man, Logan's Run, Star Wars, Alien, and Short Circuit. Stanton takes everything that makes those unique, use them as subtle references/tributes but keep it true to the story itself as he creates a unique vision that is mesmerizing from the first shot to the last shot of the film. Stanton understands that the film must have a wide depth of field, particularly on the film's Earth sequences to tell the audience of what the planet is like while the whole film in that section acts like a silent movie. No dialogue, just robot noises and the character of WALL-E being accompanied by songs from Hello, Dolly! to make up for all the sound.

The concept of having the first thirty-forty minutes of the film with no dialogue, might seem like a challenge to a very young audience, notably children. It's sense humor, romance, and whimsical nature proves that there's no need for dialogue when characters are involved with these situations. When the film moves into space. The look of it is mesmerizing as is the animation where in the exteriors, it's just gorgeous. Inside the Axiom ship, there's a bit of claustrophobia and a sense of light-hearted dystopia it acts like a full-on sci-fi feature. The references are there were the character of AUTO is essentially HAL from 2001 while some of the framing comes from the Star Wars movies in terms of its conflict.

Fans of science fiction will no doubt know these references that included Sigourney Weaver of the Alien movies in the voice of the ship's computer. Yet, the film also explores different kinds of genres aside from romance, comedy, and silent films. Another genre explored though through an emotional accompaniment is the musical, notably the 1969 Gene Kelly film Hello, Dolly! A film that when it came out at the time, was very reviled by film critics at a time when foreign films and non-Hollywood productions like Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy were about films about the current generation of that time. While some might feel baffled about the inclusion of Hello, Dolly! as the choice of musical accompaniment for WALL-E, it's emotional resonance and how it helped bring a development to the character of EVE is what the musical brings. Stanton understands the idea of character development as even the few human parts that are played are given a chance to be developed though their look may be cartoonish. It's only cartoonish to emphasize how humanity has somewhat devolved into.

What Stanton has envisioned is a film that is true to the tradition of sci-fi while giving the world of computer animation something that hasn't been explored. The result isn't just truly magnificent but the look and visual language of the film is just extraordinary and full of heart. The scenes themselves whether it's romantic, adventurous, or humorous is always done with a lot of effort and heart into making the characters relevant to a wide audience and themes they can truly understand.

Andrew Stanton not only breathes new life into the science fiction genre but raising the bar of what animation films can do, whether it's 2-D hand-drawn animation or 3-D computer animation. What Stanton does is proving that these films are more than just cartoons that will do cute things but breathe life into them that they can be just like the audience who are watching. The resulting work Stanton does is phenomenal and certainly tops nearly all of the films he and his Pixar associates have made before.

Helping Stanton in the film's visual department are his team of animators, visual effects mastermind Dennis Muren, and as a visual consultant, reknowned cinematographer Roger Deakins. The animation team along with production designer Ralph Eggleston create a unique look and layering to Earth where though it's kind of a trash heap, there is something beautiful to its look including the buildings made by block of trash. With Deakins' expertise in look, the look of Earth is given a wide scope into what the whole place looks like including how these buildings are made by WALL-E. When the film moves to outer space and Axiom, the look is even more grand and colorful including this great shot of WALL-E getting a touch of the rings of Saturn that is just truly gorgeous. Muren's contributions to the film's sci-fi look pays homage to the old sci-fi films of the past as the ship itself is amazing in its mix of a cruise ship and a space ship.

The character animation is phenomenal in the way both WALL-E and EVE look while other minor robotic characters are also given a distinct look. Jim Capobianco does some great work in the film's final credit sequences where it's done in a style of old caveman drawings while the movement is inspired by 1980s video game animation. Editor Stephen Schaffer does a great job in the film’s pacing styles where the film takes time to tell the story while not delving into hyper-active cutting with most films. Schaffer's editing also has a sense of rhythm while paying homage to the few scenes that are referencing to other films like Star Wars.

Thomas Newman's score is truly mesmerizing from the upbeat, melodic music for the film's Earth scenes along with sweeping arrangements for the film's more sci-fi scenes including a great dance scene involving WALL-E and EVE that flourishes with every movement of string performance and arrangements. Along with music from Hello, Dolly! that are sung by the film's actor Michael Crawford and a cover of La Vie En Rose by Louis Armstrong. One new song for the film's soundtrack comes from Peter Gabriel, Down To Earth that is one of Gabriel's best songs as he's joined by the Soweto Gospel Choir in this worldly yet amazing song. Another composition, that sci-fi fans will get is the Richard Strauss composition Also Sprach Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey that is wonderfully used in a comic moment.

The voice cast is excellent a wonderful voice cameo from Sigourney Weaver as the ship's computer along with Kathy Najimy and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger as two individuals who are awoken out of the doldrums that they're living in. Also included are voices from director Andrew Stanton and co-writer Pete Docter as humans and robots, Fred Willard makes an appearance through visual effects as the Buy-N-Large president of the world who is trying to manipulate humanity through consumerism. Jeff Garlin's voice appearance as the ship's captain is truly funny as he has one of the film's most memorable lines where he brings life to a caricature who is also awoken from his own dreary role.

The film's biggest and most notable technical work is in its sound design created by the legendary Ben Burtt. Along with sound editor Matthew Wood, Burtt's sound design for the voices of WALL-E, other robots, and mixing to the voice of Elissa Knight as EVE is truly mesmerizing. There's a lot of life and noises to the voices of the characters where they may sound robotic but what they're saying is more human than robotic though some might not understand what they say. Burtt's work for the voices and the objects that are in display are great while the use of the Macintalk device from Apple for the character of AUTO to give that cold, robotic personality that is with most villains. Burtt, Wood, and their sound team create some of the year's best sound work as it also acknowledge the contributions Burtt has made over the years from his work in Star Wars as the voice of R2-D2 and the lightsabers to everything else. The film's real star is Ben Burtt who gives life to a little, cuddly, square robot named WALL-E.

WALL-E isn't just the best animated film since Toy Story or the best sci-fi film since Star Wars. It's truly one of the best films ever made from the mind of Andrew Stanton and Pixar studios. Fans of science fiction will no doubt be amazed at what Stanton and Pixar has done along with its references while fans of Pixar's animation films will truly be amazed by its visual splendor and heartfelt story. Though it's hard to see whether the upcoming 2009 film Up or the widely-anticipated Toy Story 3 will ever top this film.

WALL-E clearly raises the bar for the studio of what to expect from computer-animated film as well as sci-fi films. What makes WALL-E stand out among its crop of films is a universal story about a robot who brings life to another robot as there's a new onscreen couple to fall in love with WALL-E and EVE. In the end, for a film that truly mesmerizes both visually and emotionally, WALL-E is the film to go see as it stands as not just one of the year’s best films but one of the best films ever made.

Pixar Films: Toy Story - A Bug's Life - Toy Story 2 - (Monsters, Inc.) - (Finding Nemo) - The Incredibles - Cars - Ratatouille - Up - Toy Story 3 - Cars 2 - Brave - Monsters University - Inside Out - The Good Dinosaur - (Finding Dory) - (Cars 3) - (Coco) - (The Incredibles 2) - (Toy Story 4)

(C) thevoid99 2011

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