It is suggested that WALL·E, Pixar’s 9th feature film, was developed from an idea by writer Andrew Stanton that was mentioned during the post-Toy Story brain-storming session between him and John Lasseter. Pitched as a Robinson Crusoe style story of loneliness and isolation, but set on an evacuated Earth bears more than a passing similarity to Doug Trumball’s now iconic Silent Running. Due to the complex animation compared to previous Pixar films, WALL·E cost $180m to produce, but returned over $520m at the box office while also going on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Film at the 81st Academy Awards.
The year is 2805 and planet Earth has been long-deserted due to an insurmountable pile of rubbish. With the surviving humans floating around space in a luxury liner, one Waste Allocation Load Lifter “ Earth Class, or WALL·E (Ben Burtt) is left active on Earth, diligently going about his programmed goal to clean and tidy. Then one day a spaceship lands briefly and drops off a much more advanced robot called EVE (Elissa Knight) whose mission is to find proof of life on planet Earth. The two become friends until WALL·E shows EVE a small plant in a boot, which activates EVE’s homing beacon and the two are whisked into space toward the space liner Axiom to meet what’s left of the human race.
There isn’t much in WALL·E that you haven’t seen in previous sci-fi films. There are healthy nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, The Black Hole and even the classic Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn romantic comedies. WALL-E himself resembles a cross between Johnny 5 from Short Circuit and the helper droids from Silent Running. Drawing heavy influences from a host of iconic science fiction, WALL·E is still able to seem fresh, innovative and completely believable, which is probably down to the design and script.
Taking a similar approach to Dan O’Bannon and his Alien script, Stanton made sure to direct his characters, amending, changing and editing all in the name of character and story. It is this attention to detail that allows him to do something almost unthinkable in the age of loud, crass family entertainment and populate his film with characters who do not utter a word for the whole opening act. Even when there is speech it comes from the unlikely source of a live action video from the President of Buy ‘n’ Large. It is effectively a silent movie and this was three years before The Artist wowed the world with it’s run at the Oscars.
WALL·E is also no slouch in the social commentary stakes. The idea of a human race so obsessed with convenience and ease that they’ve come to resemble large babies is unique and completely believable. Then somewhere at the heart of the film is a little menial robot whom continues to work hard, interacts with anyone and ends up passively leading a revolution. It’s inspired, uplifting and an absolute joy in character development and story-telling.
There are clear similarities in design and atmosphere between WALL·E and Andrew Stanton’s first live action directorial feature John Carter. Clearly using the experience of creating an atrophying and potentially dead world came in handy, if only he’d imbued Barsoon with such mesmerising and engaging characters he might have found more success.