As Pixar's first feature-length foray into the realm of science fiction, Wall-E (2008) stands tall as one of their most well-rounded achievements---and as a studio known for their near-perfect track record, that's certainly saying something. This story of a lonely robot and the humans he saves was embraced by critics and audiences alike, easily earning back a production budget that approached $200,000,000. To the credit of Wall-E's dedicated cast and crew, it's easy to see where the money went. Yours truly was lucky enough to catch a digitally-projected screening just after the film's premiere, but its stunning visuals are just one reason for Wall-E's remarkable reception.
Our story goes like this: Wall-E is a mobile trash-compacting unit. He's the last of his kind on 29th century Earth, give or take a decade. As the only clean-up unit still functioning, this dedicated droid can't help but feel a little lonely...even though he's got plenty of garbage to keep himself busy. After Wall-E finds a plant specimen (also the last of its kind, apparently), Earth is visited by an EVE probe that roams the trash-filled landscape in search of organic life forms. Our hero quickly becomes enamored with the sleek, efficient EVE; not surprising, since he's often dreamt of love while watching dusty old movies in his precious top-loading VCR. But once Walle-E's plant is discovered by EVE, her mission is fulfilled and she automatically shuts down. Soon after, EVE is picked up by the ship that brought her to Earth, so Wall-E decides to hitch a ride to wherever she came from.
EVE's place of origin turns out to be The Axiom, a large spaceship housing the remaining humans who left the planet several centuries ago. Now living a life of total comfort and convenience, the doughy descendants of Earth let technology run their lives, barely able to move without some measure of assistance. The entire operation appears to be headed by "Buy N' Large", an enormous corporation that gradually took over all aspects of daily human life, from groceries to government. In any case, it's up to Wall-E and EVE to share their green, leafy discovery with the humans---because once everyone realizes that Earth can still support organic life, they might be able to return to (and rebuild) their former home planet.
As much as Wall-E's story carries its own weight, the film's polished and precise visuals are the real star of the show. Barely a word is spoken during the film's first half, which relies almost solely on music and body language to fill in the details. Such an approach was obviously a critical and commercial gamble, but thanks to the skill of Pixar's production team, it remains the film's most memorable act. This helps to push Wall-E firmly against the current of typical family fare---and though the remainder of the film eventually settles for a more conventional approach, the pitch-perfect first act gets everything off to a strong start. Trash-lined landscapes, clouds of dust and smog, fluttering papers and distant, blaring loudspeakers tell us virtually everything we need to know, while the camera's "imperfect lens" (discussed in more detail below) captures everything in a distinct documentary style.
Wall-E's score and sound design are easy highlights in their own right, helping to convey plenty of emotion when words just aren't appropriate. The curious communication between Wall-E and EVE (even when not spoken in discernable English) is easy enough to understand, while Thomas Newman's stirring score holds everything together nicely. The former is pushed slightly to the background once our heroes return to The Axiom, but the strong foundation laid during the film's fist act is enough to keep Wall-E from collapsing under its own weight. In effect, this approach draws viewers of all ages closer to our main characters, allowing us to invest plenty of attention in a relatively short amount of time. Such universal feelings and emotions aren't seen as often in modern films---animated or otherwise---and it's to the credit of Wall-E's soundtrack that much of it is possible, let alone completely believable. The end result is an entertaining 98-minute film that can't help but feel a bit heavy-handed at times---but all things considered, Wall-E is a richly satisfying experience by the industry leaders in computer-based animation.
Presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, it's no surprise that Wall-E pushes standard definition visuals to the limit. Image detail is remarkable from start to finish, the film's stylized color palette appears accurate and black levels are very consistent---so obviously, the only way you'll get a better visual presentation is by opting for the Blu-Ray. Simply put, there's absolutely zilch to complain about here, so Wall-E deserves nothing less than a perfect score.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix is equally enjoyable, boasting strong channel separation and plenty of surround activity. Wall-E's first act obviously favors subtle atmospheric touches, while the "larger" second half opens up the soundstage nicely. Thomas Newman's excellent score also sounds great from start to finish, adding plenty of emotion without fighting for attention with dialogue and/or sound effects. A separate English 2.0 mix is also included for those without surround setups---and the DVD automatically defaults to this mix, so be sure to visit the set-up and calibration menus first. Optional English subtitles (SDH) have been included during the main feature and all applicable bonus material; kudos to Disney for their continued efforts in this department.
Two Animated Shorts are up next. "Presto" (5:16) should be instantly familiar to those who managed to catch Wall-E in theaters. This amusing, dialogue-free short revolves around a magician and his hungry rabbit; the latter sabotages his master's show for lack of carrots. "BURN-E" (7:35) is up next---and though it almost plays out more like an extended scene, this short glimpse of a repair robot on The Axiom is clever and highly entertaining in its own right. Both exhibit the same terrific sights gags and comedic timing of the main feature (and the bulk of Pixar's short film output), so fans should know what to expect.
We're also treated to two Deleted Scenes (4:51), entitled "Garbage Airlock" and "Dumped" (1:29), with optional intro commentary by Stanton. Both of these are more interesting than typical deleted scenes, especially since they're presented in nearly completed format. It's easy to see why they didn't make the cut, as Stanton explains in his optional commentary, but it's great to see these in such pristine condition (NOTE: a few more deleted scenes are also available on Disc 2, though they're not quite as polished).
Also here is "Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from the Sound Up" (18:43), a relatively in-depth featurette about the history of sound design in animation. Highlighted by comments from a handful of Pixar crew members (including Ben Burtt, who designed many sounds we hear in Wall-E), this is an informative piece that animation fans should certainly enjoy.
Closing out Disc 1 is a Sneak Peek of "Wall-E's Tour of the Universe" (0:49), an ambiguous preview for something related to the film, as well as a handful of Previews for upcoming Disney and Pixar releases. Overall, this isn't a bad spread for those who choose the one-disc release---but we've still got plenty to go, so read on for more!
Divided into "Humans" (film fans) and "Robots" (families), there's plenty of interesting bonus features to dig through on Disc 2. The centerpiece is undoubtedly The Pixar Story (88:28, above left), a 2007 feature-length film detailing the history of this acclaimed studio. This was quite a welcome surprise and almost deserving of a stand-alone release, but its inclusion only broadens the scope of this well-rounded package. Featuring dozens of participants and a wealth of vintage photos and video clips, it's as educational as it is entertaining. Interestingly enough, The Pixar Story doesn't shy away from the company's rocky financial situation in earlier days (as well as other not-so-happy times, of course), which makes for a richly honest and up-front production.
Two additional Deleted Scenes are up next, entitled "Secret Files" (3:21) and "Docking" (5:58). These are presented in much rougher form than the clips on Disc 1, but they're certainly worth looking through.
Up next is a series of more detailed Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes. "The Imperfect Lens: Creating the Look of WALL-E" (14:32, above right) focuses on the film's stunning attention to detail, from character designs to densely-layered backgrounds. Famed cinematographer and Wall-E visual consultant Roger Deakins even stops by for a chat, explaining the process used to make everything look like a quasi-documentary. "Captain's Log: The Evolution of Humans" (7:58) offers a glimpse of earlier story elements, such as the nixed inclusion of blob-like aliens instead of blob-like humans. "Notes on a Score" (10:42) focuses on more aspects of the film's audio presentation, featuring comments from composer Thomas Newman, music editor Bill Bernstein and others. "Life of a Shot: Deconstructing the Pixar Process" (5:09) takes us on a quick tour of several specific clips from the film, explaining just how much work is contributed by a staggering amount of cast and crew members. "Robo-Everything" (5:46) offers a closer look at the robotic background characters seen in the film's second and third acts. Finally, "Wall-E and EVE" focuses on our main characters and how they were designed and developed.
Closing out the "Humans" section is a series of "Buy 'n Large" Shorts (five clips, 8:50 total), many of which were seen in limited fashion during the main feature. These detail the history and business model of the fictional company, and can be viewed individually or all at once. It's odd that a collection of promotional material wasn't included in this section (poster designs and trailers, anyone?), but what's here is well-rounded, educational and highly entertaining.
The much shorter "Robots" section is next, which leads off with "WALL-E's Treasures and Trinkets" (4:55). This newly produced piece of animation closely resembles Pixar's earlier Luxo Jr., in that our main characters simply frolic around a basic background and get themselves into a bit of trouble. Also here are the "Bot Files", a few dozen fact pages filled with details about the main and supporting robotic characters. Sure, it's a fun way for the kids to meet all the new and different characters seen during the film, but it also helps us realize just how much work is put into things we really don't see at first glance.
Closing out Disc 2 is a "Lots of Bots" Read-Along Storybook, which presents a light-hearted children's story in fully narrated form. Also, at least one Easter Egg was found on one of this disc's sub-menus, so happy hunting!
Disc 3 houses a Digital Copy of the main feature, if you're into that sort of thing.
All bonus features are presented in anamorphic widescreen format and include optional English subtitles, a practice that Pixar films have been extremely consistent with on DVD thus far. Here's hoping that other studios continue to follow suit.
It's been repeated ad nauseum during the last decade, but Pixar's film output has been nothing short of astounding. Wall-E keeps their winning streak intact, offering plenty of colorful characters, a terrific story and an ambitious style that should please fans of all ages. There's no shortage of options for your home viewing pleasure, either: with at least four total releases in standard DVD and Blu-Ray formats, there's a version of Wall-E for just about everyone. This three-disc Special Edition will please those who haven't made the switch to high definition, offering a pitch-perfect technical presentation and a host of terrific bonus features (including a bonus feature-length film, The Pixar Story). All things considered, it's an easy choice for all but the most casual fans of Wall-E---and despite the high price tag, this fantastic package is worthy of our highest rating: DVD Talk Collectors Series.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.