Ah, WALL-E. This is, in many ways, Pixar’s most remarkable feature, one that makes full use of the potential animation has to tell unconventional stories and take us to fantastical places. The film has been so roundly discussed, dissected, and analyzed over the years – by myself and many others – that I feel there is little to add to the conversation today.
I will just say that Andrew Stanton’s vision of a dark, detailed, and overwhelmingly ignorant future grows more prescient with each passing day, and that in the silent, robotic title character, Stanton created one of animation’s single greatest characters. WALL-E is a charmer, a lonely idealist each of us can hopefully relate to, and his love for EVE remains one of the most touching cinematic romances of the modern era.
Much has been made of the film’s tonal shifts in the second half – some like where the film goes while others detest it – but the entire film works for me. It is powerful, poignant, and thought provoking from start to finish. The only complaint I can lodge against the film – if I can even call it a complaint – is that the story is not quite as impactful once one has seen it before. Unlike many of Pixar’s films, WALL-E draws much of its power from going in cold, and repeat viewings are not as revelatory. It is a small matter, and not necessarily a fault of the film itself, but it is the factor that separates WALL-E from the final films on the countdown.
The fact that Up – an animated film that deals primarily with the psychology of growing old – even exists is simply astonishing. That it is a true modern masterpiece should not be a surprise, given what a mind-boggling hot-streak Pixar was on at the time.
Nevertheless, Pete Docter’s magical story of an old man, a boy scout, a colorful bird, and a flying balloon house is awe-inspiring for its sheer narrative efficiency and overwhelming emotional power. Nearly every viewer will readily assert that they cried at the first ten minutes of Up – a relentlessly heart-tugging montage that traces the ups and down of life itself – and there are plenty of other spots that inspire a similar reaction. My breaking point? It’s Carl pinning Ellie’s soda-pop badge on Russell. I grow misty-eyed merely thinking about it.
The depth of characterization here is simply astounding, but the unflinching maturity of the storytelling is what defines Up as one of Pixar’s greatest accomplishments. The film is also a remarkably exciting adventure, of course, and features some of the studio’s lushest animation, but when I think about Up, I keep coming back to the film’s hauntingly beautiful discussions of life, death, love, isolation, and redemption. It is not just one of Pixar’s richest features, but one of the best American films of the new millennium.
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