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The Unbearable Realness of Wall-E

07/07/08 5:55PM By Philip Baruth
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(HOST) For Commentator Philip Baruth, summer blockbusters are like Christmas fruitcakes: not very enjoyable, but at least they let you know what month it is.  Philip went to see Pixar's animated tale Wall-E and found it just so-so.  That is, until life began to imitate art.  And then he had the time of his life.


(BARUTH) By now you'll have heard and read all the glowing reviews of Pixar's summer blockbuster, Wall-E.  It's the story of a trash-disposal robot left on Earth once humans have rendered it uninhabitable and migrated out into space.  Over the centuries, Wall-E watches old Hollywood films and comes to realize that he's missing a leading lady.  Wall-E's been compared to Kubrick, and to Mack Sennet and Charlie Chaplin.  That's probably why I was so disappointed for much of the film, but it wasn't just the hype.  For me, Wall-E took the all the charms of Pixar's short animated films - the lack of dialogue, the plucky characters and violent slapstick - and it tried to stretch those diminutive charms to feature-length.  Which turned out to be about an hour longer than they could really bear.
 
The result - and I know I'm in the minority on this one - the result is an occasionally winning film that comes to feel not just repetitive, but a little desperate in its attempts to keep the silent characters in jeopardy.
 
There was one part of the film that I loved, though.  The human race, it turns out, hasn't found another planet; they're just orbiting out in space, being pampered by their robot servants, floating on what look like a cross between hovercraft and Barkaloungers, watching virtual sports and drinking sickly sweet meals out of Big Gulp cups.  It's nicely drawn satire, and, once Wall-E and his love interest Eva make their way to the floating ark, the movie became much more watchable.   Why?  Mostly because we get to watch these human doughballs, who haven't walked or swung a bat in hundreds of years, get off their airborne couches and attempt to take back their lives.  It's played for laughs, but the satire is also close enough to the bone to be heartbreaking.  That's when I really started to enjoy myself, ten minutes from the end.  And that, of course, is when the film broke.  Seriously, in the theater where I saw Wall-E, the film suddenly doubled up on itself, with the bottom on the top half of the screen, and vice-versa.  And then it just quit altogether, and ads for local health clubs and restaurants started playing.  Finally the lights came up, and there I was, sitting slouched way down in my seat, with my oversized box of Raisinettes resting on my stomach, and a large tub of popcorn wedged into the seat next to me.
 
Everyone in the theater was looking around, too, wondering what to do, everyone nibbling a little candy to kill the anxiety.  After all the satire about over-eating and over-viewing we'd just seen, nobody especially wanted to make eye contact, and people kept their Starbursts and Goobers down low.  And then, after a few more minutes, the lights dimmed, and the film picked up where it left off, and Pixar's summer blockbuster came to its highly predictable conclusion.  But the best part, bar none, was the moment when the film stopped, and all of us were forced to look at ourselves in light of the satire we'd just seen.  It made me wonder, all of a sudden, if what looked like the film breaking was itself a deliberate Pixar effect, with everyone in theaters all over America forced into the same four minutes of surreal self-scrutiny.  Now THAT would be genius.
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