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Savant Blu-ray Review

Disney Home Entertainment
2008 / Color / 2.39:1 (is this a joke?) / 98 min. / Street Date November 18, 2008 / 40.99
Starring (voices) Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, MacInTalk, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver, (and) Fred Willard.
Production Design Ralph Eggleston
Film Editor Stephen Schaffer
Original Music Thomas Newman
Written by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter
Produced by Jim Morris
Directed by Andrew Stanton

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

It's hard to believe that feature animation had once almost disappeared from American screens. The Pixar studio has left the rest of the industry far behind by making feature entertainments better than Hollywood's live action alternatives. Like Ratatouille before it, WALL-E surprises the viewer with a bright new visual style, in this case a fanciful blend of realistic and idealistic futurism. A full half-hour transpires before any serious dialogue is heard, yet we're held fast by fascinating character concepts and breathtaking animation.

WALL-E is a science fiction movie that makes child's play of concepts normally found in grimy, unappetizing atomic aftermath movies. The fate of its world is plenty sobering, particularly in a time when our worldwide economy appears to be caught in a downward spiral. Yet the movie has an optimistic soul and a big heart. It's a feast for the eyes and ears as well.

Disney is releasing WALL-E in a selection of DVD and Blu-ray editions. Savant's review copy is the 3-Disc Blu-ray edition that contains a second disc of extras and a third Digital Copy of the picture, for uploading to one's computer.

WALL-E stands for "Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth-class." He's a personable little robot on tank treads with a trash compactor for a body and a pair of binocular lenses for eyes. Earth has been abandoned for 700 years while robots like WALL-E stay behind to "clean things up". Unfortunately, Terra Firma remains a parched ruin of wrecked cities and dust storms; WALL-E appears to be the last surviving clean-up unit in operation. The robot spends his days collecting metal scrap, crushing it into cubes and stacking the cubes into towers taller than skyscrapers. One day he finds something that's been extinct for seven centuries, a little green plant sprout. He adds it to his collection of oddities -- which includes a videotape of Hello, Dolly! that teaches him to sing, dance, and generate romantic desires.

That's when a giant spaceship arrives and disgorges EVE, a polished white pod-like robot droid several centuries more advanced than WALL-E. Like a porcelain hummingbird, EVE flits about scanning random objects in a search for living flora -- EVE stands for "Extraterrestial Vegetation Evaluator". WALL-E immediately falls in love with the shapely new-generation robot, but cannot distract her from her mission. When EVE sees WALL-E's plant seedling, she snaps into mission mode and goes into hibernation, waiting for the spaceship to return for the green sprout that proves that Earth is on the mend. WALL-E won't be parted from EVE, and hitches a ride into outer space ... to parts unknown.

WALL-E begins like a silent comedy, with the adorable WALL-E scuttling about on his little tread feet. He can really race but is also capable of tiptoeing motions and little ice-skater's pirouettes. When frightened he retracts into his basic cube shape, like a turtle. He performs his share of slapstick but the superb character animation also generates strong emotions. His pal is a little mutant cockroach, the only organic species to survive on Earth. WALL-E's a friendly guy with a good attitude, and EVE provides all the inspiration needed for the robot to accomplish great things. As an in-joke for Apple lovers, WALL-E's solar charge sessions finish with the noise of a Mac computer rebooting.

The orange dust and post-apocalyptic wasteland of Earth is littered with huge abandoned Buy N Large stores, an obvious pejorative placeholder for Wal-Mart. As it turns out, the Buy N Large Corporation governed the entire planet, and was apparently responsible for encouraging humanity to bury its own habitat in toxic garbage. This calamity takes place only a hundred years in our future.

WALL-E riffs on many Science-Fiction movies but most resembles Douglas Trumbull's 1972 Silent Running. In that film Earth's last remaining plants are shipped off to be preserved in space domes tended by a trio of cute robots. WALL-E displaces the entire human population instead, and places them in the Axiom, an enormous interplanetary vehicle with all the amenities of a luxury cruise ship. It's sort of a space ark, as in When Worlds Collide. Pampered for centuries, the inhabitants have atrophied into blobby doll-people who cannot even stand on their own feet. Not only that, they've forgotten their origin or even what they're living for. Happily for the species, the Axiom's Captain educates himself, and re-discovers the ship's intended mission to re-colonize Earth.

WALL-E samples bits of Sci-Fi lore to fashion a scenario requiring very little exposition to communicate its ideas -- everyone knows what an airlock is. A live-action Fred Willard appears in recorded sound bites, urging humanity to board the space ships. The film is peppered with little in-jokes and references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. WALL-E often looks like the CGI animation used to augment live-action films, only more "real" because it can set its own standard of reality. This frees us to enjoy the flow rather than analyze every new situation and object for concept flaws.

WALL-E took some political flak last summer from anti-environmentalist humbugs who declared it Green Propaganda because it doesn't conform to their narrow viewpoint. As the film's message and ideas are obviously in the right place, the complaints were largely ignored. WALL-E indeed is anti- the big corporation mindset -- the drill-drill, clear-cut, strip-mine, rip-off, Wal-Mart, trash-the-joint attitude. And that's fine by me.

The humans of WALL-E may have atrophied into talking beanbags but they are still made of the stuff of heroes. The Captain fulfills his role by inspiring his charges with the challenge of reclaiming their home planet: "I don't want to survive, I want to live!" After thirty years of futuristic movies sticking post-nuke horrors in our faces WALL-E puts hope and humanism back into Science Fiction's agenda.

WALL-E on Blu-ray is sheer wonderment. Strong, purposeful design must be its secret, because its vastly complicated action scenes never generate the kind of visual overload headaches produced by many another CGI film. The colors and textures are precise and the image is as razor sharp as what we saw projected digitally last summer. Full DTS and Dolby tracks are included.

Also exclusive to the Blu-ray editions is a "Geek Track" pop-up commentary, a game section called the Axiom Arcade, 3D set fly-throughs and a feature with director Andrew Stanton called Cine-Explore. BD-Live extras are said to include an internet-based feature allowing family members to talk to each other remotely, while watching the movie together. I suppose old folks far away might enjoy "sharing" a movie with their grandchildren, but I'd hate to see such a feature replacing human contact -- it sounds like a plan that Buy N Large would cook up.

The features included on both Blu-ray and DVD editions begin with Presto, the hilarious short subject with the magician and the rabbit that accompanied the film in theaters. A "new" animated short called BURN-E plays like an afterthought, or, more likely, a running gag sidebar deemed superfluous. It expands on the struggles of a little maintenance robot to keep a lamp lit on the Axiom's exterior.

Also present are a long list of the usual added value suspects -- deleted scenes, Buy N Large short films, making-of featurettes. Two docus focus on the film's sound design (recommended) and the history of Pixar, the Animation Company That Seemingly Can Do No Wrong. The third disc is a Digital Copy allows one to transfer WALL-E to one's computer hard drive.

Of all the Pixar features so far, WALL-E could be the greatest accomplishment. Singing animals and comic book comedy are known sure things, but environmentally-oriented Sci-Fi has been a filmic pitfall for forty years -- anyone remember No Blade of Grass? Pixar's WALL-E hasn't a single stump speech about saving the planet, yet it's sure to inspire millions of children -- and enthusiastic adults -- of the importance of the mission. When are they going to start giving out Pulitzers and Nobels for noble movies?

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, WALL-E Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent +
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Many, including Blu-ray exclusives. See above.
Packaging: 3 Discs in Keep case
Reviewed:November 15, 2008

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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