One thing's for sure when it comes to Pixar films; whatever the concept may be, you're certainly going to be in for an interesting story. But when I saw WALL-E in theaters, I guess I wasn't expecting such a charming tale of a robot with a tendency to be a metallic version of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, possessing a lot of the qualities that would make him endearing.
WALL-E was co-written by Pixar veterans Pete Docter (Toy Story) and Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), who also directed. WALL-E is the name of a robot designed for the purpose of collecting, compressing and organizing the Earth's trash. He's been doing this for centuries, and one day a ship comes to Earth and dispatches a probe, and WALL-E immediately enjoys the company, a robot named Eve who is trying to find signs of growth and vegetation on Earth (which humans had long since left as a result over their over consumption and pollution). When Eve does manage to find a plant, the ship that dispatched her comes back to bring Eve back to the mother ship, which WALL-E will not have any part of, so he gets on the ship to try and rescue her.
In an era of loud films with barren storylines, with WALL-E, Stanton brings together a film with two main characters who know a handful (literally) of words, and their thoughts and emotions are shown in other ways. WALL-E's eyes almost look like binocular lenses, but since he doesn't have a mouth, his eyes really give you a full range of emotions as if his face was complete. Eve's are much the same way, though not as effectively as WALL-E's. WALL-E is a robot who is content in his job, but he is wont for some friendship. To a certain degree, he might even be called a romantic at heart. As part of the pre-production for the film, Stanton brought cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country For Old Men) in to discuss effective photography and lighting, which lent itself to Stanton's ideas for making the film a realistic-looking animated project. In addition, having Lucasfilm pros Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren onboard helped lend the animators a voice of authenticity to the science fiction aspects of the film.
I'd probably say that the only thing that holds WALL-E back from being just good to being great is that it seemed to revert back to a little bit of conventional storytelling once the robots leave Earth. There are small character conflicts there which seem a little flat and uninspired and almost take away from the atmosphere that was created earlier on. With that said, at the end of the day WALL-E can't help but be endearing to the sentimental nature of anyone who watches it. The character is the essence of a viewer's suspension of disbelief, and his charm is easily transferable.
At the time I saw WALL-E in theaters, I was amazed with how realistic it was and thought that it was the most realistic Pixar film I'd seen to date; the 2.39:1 MPEG-4 encoded widescreen presentation brings those thoughts back to mind and then some. Detail is outstanding, with a lot of textures that I didn't see in the theater, and the image looks extremely multidimensional, which doesn't waver through the entire film. Aside from the dustiness of Earth and the inky blacks of space, the interior shots of the Axiom ship possess a wide variety of colors that are vibrant without bleeding, and many shots have a lot of action in them that can be easily spotted in the third act which don't experience pixilation or other kinetic visual problems. WALL-E is perfect on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track is a surprise, as I frankly was expecting Disney to do a PCM track for this release. That said, it's an amazing experience. It's very attentive when the moment calls for it; small sound effects like anything WALL-E's pet cockroach does are clear and responsive, WALL-E's movements on Earth pan through the front channels and into the rears effectively, and Eve's flying through the air is immersive through all the speakers too. When it comes to subwoofer activity, well, when the big ships take off and land, it will rattle the roof and blow the doors off. You're put next to WALL-E in virtually everything he does and made to be as much a part of the action as he is. This soundtrack accomplishes that.
A quick word on the extras; Disney has released the standard definition and Blu-ray two-disc sets with (and without) an additional disc that includes a digital copy of the film. If you buy the three-disc edition regardless of 480 or 1080p, you're going to pay a slight premium (around $4 depending on your local retailer). We've got the three-disc version here, and disc three houses the digital copy. Moving on...
Pixar normally loads their titles up with a wealth of bonus material, and WALL-E is no exception. Disc one is BD-Live enabled and you can access the material on that disc, though registration is done on a separate website. The first big extra is the "Cine-Explore" commentary with Stanton, which includes stills, production footage and other material along with his track as he talks about making the film. He describes the inspiration for the film and the challenges making it both from the creative and production aspects and walks you through the day at Pixar. Whenever he mentions the name of a crew member, a picture of them comes onto the screen. It gets a little dry into the second and third acts (even though he mentions that Sigourney Weaver did a voice for the film), but it's an informational track nonetheless. The second commentary is with co-producer Lindsey Collins, production artist Angus MacLane and a couple other members of the Pixar crew as they talk about the film and pop up periodically in silhouette MST style. This one does have some info, but it's more livelier and fun than the first track, talking about things like X-Men and Captain America, Beta and VHS, the Atari 2600 and a whole host of other stuff. Not much of it is relevant, but like I said earlier, it's fun. Two short films, Presto (5:14) and the new Burn-E (7:19) are the only other pieces on the first disc, and you can watch the latter with a storyboard-to-film comparison option if you so choose.
Moving onto disc two, the extras are broken down into "Robots" and "Humans" sections. The "Robots" section starts with "WALL-E's Treasures and Trinkets" (4:54), which looks at WALL-E as he plays with a hula hoop, magnet and other common items in a cute montage. "Lots of Bots" is a storybook read by John Ratzenberger (Cheers) and Kathy Najimy (Sister Act), and you can either play the book on its own (3:05) or play with it as it allows, by building and identifying robots for the story. "Axiom Arcade" is a series of four, apparently 8-bit era arcade games with WALL-E (who tests his landing skills), Eve (where she blasts bots not unlike Asteroids), M-O and Burn-E, and the games are actually kind of cool to play for a bit, a nice diversion for the kids. "WALL-E's Tour of the Universe" (0:46) is a PSA of some sort that talks about...space discovery? "Bot Files" are rotating, three-dimensional examinations and narrations of all the robots that appear in the film.
The "Humans" section starts with two excellent feature-length documentaries. The first is a Behind the Scenes feature, which is broken down into seven parts, which total over an hour of time on the film. The visual challenges are shown in a little more detail, along with various illustration sessions, test footage and the like. Burtt's sound design is covered in extensive and engrossing detail, while early story concepts are discussed which were a little on the dark side of things. Thomas Newman talks about the musical cues and score composition that he did for the production, and one unique piece shows a shot from the film and each crew member who had a hat in the shot point out what they contributed, which helps show the scale of time and effort Pixar puts into their films. It's an excellent feature. The other long documentary is "The Pixar Story" (1:28:30), which is narrated by Stacy Keach and is an exhaustive look at the origins of the studio, from John Lasseter's origins to his firing from Disney. Steve Jobs' infusion of cash is discussed and the early lean days of Pixar are discussed, from their shorts to commercials, and Toy Story is shown, along with interview footage with Hanks to boot. The success of Pixar is stunning quite frankly when you talk about the dollars, but in terms of the industry, the pen illustrators' being made obsolete by Pixar is talked about, along with Pixar's attempts to rebuild the ink illustration film genre. While it may be a little on the good PR side for Pixar, the fact remains that it's an excellent piece and worth picking the disc up based on this alone. From there, four deleted scenes (22:54) follow, each of which includes introductions by Stanton, and post-clip explanations of why the scene didn't stick around. A couple are in decent computer graphics shape, the other two are in conceptual and stills form, but they're all pretty forgettable. "BnL Shorts" (8:45) is a series of five short training films similar to the captain's film seen in the film. Set flythroughs of the ship and of the small patch of Earth follow (10:38), all of which are three dimensional with finished computer graphics, and they remain breathtaking as they were in the film. Four stills galleries are next, and six trailers (13:37) are last, all of which are in high definition, with a couple of them being international trailers.
Recently, I reviewed Kung Fu Panda and I thought that the film was kind of fun and definitely lighthearted, but there's hardly anything there which transcends its medium. Pixar owns a virtual patent on that type of material, and WALL-E strikes many more emotional chords than Panda. In addition, the supplemental material is not only worthwhile, but exceptional and appealing to both kids and adults, kind of like the film. The reference-quality audio and video presentations are almost a formality at this point, but the three-disc version of WALL-E is worthy of the DVD Talk Collector Series label.