Review by KC Carlson
If I were Pixar right now, I think I’d scrape together 40 or 50 bucks and spend 10 minutes or so to put together the biggest piece of junk ever imagined — just to give people something to complain about. Y’know, like “Pixar’s lost it!” or “it was bound to happen someday!” or “Is that John Ratzenberger’s butt?” (Well, maybe not that last one…) Just so they could get it out of their systems and get back to enjoying the movies, without looking for reasons to tear Pixar down … like us Americans are so fond of doing. The Pixar films are so phenomenally good; it’s amazing that they haven’t had a misstep so far.
WALL*E is the ninth incredible Pixar movie in a row to acquire rave reviews and big box office numbers. It’s an unheard-of feat in movies as well as much other entertainment. Everybody does a bad movie once in a while, or a TV show has an “off” season, or an actor makes some bone-headed personal or professional gaffe. Not Pixar. It’s almost unreal.
And it’s not like they don’t take chances. In every movie, they tackle some seemingly impossible technological problem in computer-generated (CG) animation — people, fur, underwater, rain, outer space, huge frickin’ crowds of things — and stomp it into the ground. They certainly don’t make it easy for themselves in their storytelling, with toys, bugs, monsters, fish, and cars that act like people. A dysfunctional family of super-heroes. A rat who wants to be a great chef. A robot love story. All easy peasy. Unreal.
I won’t waste your time with a long plot synopsis of WALL*E. I can tell you everything you need to know in two sentences (one, really — I just generally run off at the keyboard): Even robots can fall in love. And sometimes it takes a little guy to save the world.
If you haven’t seen WALL*E yet, you have a pretty big hole in your soul and just don’t know it yet. A pretty-close-to-perfect film — a slightly less-than-perfect DVD. Let’s take a look.
The Pixar Story
After the movie itself, the best thing on the Special Edition is The Pixar Story, a 90-minute documentary outlining the studio’s meteoric rise to the top. Most people think of Pixar as the near-perfect merger of the creative (the moving image, or animation), with the technological (creation by computer), but actually Pixar is a tripod, with financial (money) being the third leg, as you can’t have the first two without a lot of the third. And having a lot of the third buys you the opportunity to play (i.e. think outside the box). Play is what makes Pixar go round and round.
Pixar has become almost legendary in the field of business as well as entertainment for their far-thinking attitudes towards employee satisfaction, and a lot of that is on display in the documentary. It’s obviously a lot of fun to work at a place like Pixar — happy people do better work, after all — but you also get a very strong sense of pride in their craft, as well as a huge emphasis on education and legacy.
It wasn’t all fun and games behind the scenes at Pixar. A lot of struggle and hard work went into what appears almost effortless on screen. Written, directed, and produced by Leslie Iwerks, granddaughter to the legendary animator Ub Iwerks, the Emmy Award-nominated The Pixar Story is one of those great documentaries you’ll want to watch over and over.
I was more than pleased to learn in director and co-writer Andrew Stanton’s commentary that he didn’t have a political or environmental agenda in the creation of WALL*E. Originally called “Trash Planet,” the film was simply about there being too much trash, to serve the main idea of the last robot on Earth not knowing that he could stop doing the job he was programmed to do as a trash compactor. The film had been in production for four years and as time went on in the real world, the background of fictional Earth became more and more prophetic. In a year where everything became way too political, it was a relief to learn that the center of this story was more about the emotional core of the love story, rather than a polemic. I sure got tired of people grabbing hold of this film to support their particular political agenda.
Stanton’s commentary is warm and funny and to the point. Although he’s doing it solo, he seldom runs out of things to talk about. It was a relief to listen to after hearing so many “gang” commentaries on other DVDs with people joking around and talking over each other. This was a class act.
Also, on one set of deleted scenes, Stanton does before and after “intros,” so make sure that you stick around after the scene finishes to get the full commentary in this section.
Be sure to check out Imperfect Lens: Creating the Look of WALL*E for a discussion of some of the new, yet traditional, filmmaking methods the Pixar crew attempted and conquered in WALL*E. This time around, they were looking at more deliberate “camera movements,” as well as more experiments in depth of field and pull focus techniques. Keep in mind that no actual cameras are actually used in the making of Pixar films. All “traditional” camera movements are created in the computer in an attempt to “look” real by creating artificial dimensionality. This is most evident in the first third of the movie, where there is (mostly) no dialogue and no humans, and the storytelling is primarily done with the pantomime of the characters, as well as the basic storytelling tools of the filmmaker. After you watch this featurette, go back and watch the first 33 minutes of the film again to see how much film technique is used to propel the story forward.
Life of a Shot: Deconstructing the Pixar Process is another fascinating look into “how it’s done and how many people it takes.” The key stat here is astounding: If one person did all of the work of the entire Pixar crew for each of the 1,500 shots of the film, it would take that one person 442 years to complete the film. This is a team sport, people!
But the special feature that everyone will be looking for is the new short film BURN*E. In the tradition of previous short Jack-Jack Attack (from The Incredibles), this new film takes its cue from the actual WALL*E film itself. It stars BURN*E, the little repair robot who gets inadvertently locked out of the Axiom by the returning WALL*E and EVE after their cute space flight. As we find out in this short film, poor BURN*E is the unsuspecting victim of several different events that happen throughout the course of the movie, unbeknownst to us — until now! BURN*E ranks right up there with the amazing streak of creative and hysterically funny shorts produced by Pixar. (And yes, the amazing theatrical short Presto is also in all versions of the DVD.)
Other tidbits picked up in various featurettes include learning that in its original stages, the tone of film — especially in the Axiom spaceship sequences — was much darker; the design of most of the robots on the Axiom were modular and loosely based on the Lego concept; most of the robots don’t have elbows (one of the exceptions is HAN*S, the out of control robot masseur who pretty much single-handedly takes out all of the GEL*A steward robots in the big fight); and that the human points-of-origin and inspiration for the WALL*E and EVE characters were Buster Keaton and Sigourney Weaver. By the way, Weaver has an actual role in the film. Do you know who she plays? (Hint: NOT EVE.)
Speaking of voices, the discs do not have the usual Pixar/Disney feature on the voice talents in the film. There is, however, a great featurette on the animation sound design, as the creation of the various sounds that the robots make is integral to the film. Although they have a human voice at their core, the voices of WALL*E and EVE are largely distorted, filtered, or what-have-you by sound engineer Ben Burtt (who provides the core for both WALL*E and M*O). The voice actors who provide the voices for the humans are mentioned in passing but not given a feature of their own. But this featurette is so captivating that the loss is barely felt.
The biggest omission — at least for me — is the lack of trailers for the film. I always enjoy looking back at how Pixar markets their films, and for many, trailers have become a minor art-form (via commerce) themselves. The lack of them is is deeply felt, especially since in the past, Pixar promotions — especially the teasers — often featured material that didn’t appear in the actual movie. Although thinking back on it, maybe most, if not all, of the material shown in the WALL*E trailers and teasers was eventually used in the movie itself, so maybe that’s why they aren’t here. Still…
There are three Easter Eggs on the Special Edition WALL*E DVD (on Blu-ray, they’re features). Disc 1 has two, both on the Main Menu: a Title Animation Test (a trifle, but funny story) and Geek-O-Rama, which is difficult to describe, but includes the line “You’d have a big bowl of geek!” The third egg, on Disc 2 in the Behind the Scenes section of the “Humans” area, features an Original Development Test.
As per usual for a Pixar release, there are a bunch of Easter Eggs in the film itself, including references to previous Pixar films Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and possibly others. Plus, some of the Pixar in-jokes and good luck charms such as the Pizza Planet truck (from Toy Story), “A113,” John Ratzenberger, and the Luxo Ball (hint: look for it in Presto) also appear. Plus, there are a couple references to Apple computers as well. (Another hint: WALL*E’s truck is a great place to find eggs!) Reportedly, there may be a “hidden Mickey” as well (although it’s really hard to spot, and may be inadvertent). Good hunting!
WALL*E is packaged in a wide array of choices, either as full-screen or widescreen format in the single disc package, or as a three-disc Special Edition in widescreen only. The single disc includes the film, the feature-length commentary by director Andrew Stanton, Presto (the hysterically funny short that played in the theaters with WALL*E), the BURN*E short, a couple of deleted scenes, a feature on the all-important sound design of WALL*E, as well as the usual amount of ads and propaganda from the friendly Disney folk.
The Special Edition adds a second disc of features including The Pixar Story documentary, more deleted scenes, a whole bunch of featurettes, a look at the BnL shorts from the film, a kid-oriented storybook feature, a guide to all the robots in the movie (except the robot mice that appear in the film, who are all cleverly called REM*E), and the wildly funny WALL*E’s Treasures and Trinkets — a series of short “blackout” gags. The third disc is a downloadable digital copy of the film for your computer or electronic device. (Make sure you keep the paper insert with your special code!)
There are two Blu-ray packages: The regular two-disc set includes everything from the Special Edition DVD (and more), except for the downloadable digital copy of the film. But look, that’s included in the three-disc Blu-ray set!
It looks like much of the packaging (at least for the DVD versions) is cardboard. I’m all for being green, and the Special Edition package is very clever and well designed, but I’m also interested in protecting these reasonably expensive DVDs from wear, and this package just doesn’t cut it. In just a weekend of sliding the discs in and out of the case to do this review, I’ve already lightly scratched one of the discs. I’m guessing that if you have kids, the three-disc Special Edition discs and packaging will be trashed within a month. (Disney may be already anticipating this. The ubiquitous message about registering your discs for their Disc Replacement Program is nowhere to be found in the WALL*E packaging.)
Now, there seems to be a lot of really clever people working at Disney who daily do the impossible. Surely, there must be some way to come up with some compromise packaging that is green as well as protective. Or at least gives the consumer an element of choice. Even the grocery store gives us a choice of “paper or plastic.”
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)