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Wall-E (2008)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/18/2008

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/17/2008

I've written before about how I don't like the fact that Pixar films keep getting longer and longer. In my review for Cars, I sited the fact that "Toy Story was perfectly fine at 81 minutes. But their recent efforts have ballooned from 100 minutes (Finding Nemo) to 115 minutes (The Incredibles) to Cars which stands at 116 minutes." I feel that these longer movies place more of an emphasis on dazzling the audience than they do on story. Well, imagine my reaction when I went to the theater to see Wall-E and found that film to be over two hours long. What's that? It's only 98-minutes? Oh. The fact that it felt like a two-hour marathon perfectly illustrates what is wrong with this film, which was full of potential.

Wall-E is set some 700 years in the future and the story begins on Earth, which is a barren, desolate place. Due to the build-up of trash and pollution, humans have abandoned Earth for deep-space. Wall-E (voiced by Ben Burtt) is a small robot who turns the garbage into small cubes, which he then builds into skyscrapers. Wall-E has been alone for hundreds of years, doing this job, with a cockroach as his only companion. He is dirty and beat up, and often scavenges other robots for spare parts. The small robot is apparently sentient, as he's incredibly curious and likes to collect objects which he finds interesting. He has also discovered a videotape of Hello Dolly, which we watches daily. One day, a spaceship lands, and a sleek, white robot called Eve (voiced by Elissa Knight) emerges from it. Wall-E is terrified of this visitor at first, most especially because Eve shoots a laser at any strange noise. After a time, Wall-E and Eve finally meet face-to-face and he shows her around, although Wall-E doesn't understand why she keeps scanning everything. Finally, Wall-E takes Eve back to the vehicle where he stays at night, and upon seeing a small plant which he has found, Eve shuts down. Wall-E is dismayed by this, and he's even further distressed when the spaceship returns to collect Eve. Determined to stay with his new friend, Wall-E boards the ship as well, and a new adventure begins.

Wall-E definitely has two things going for it. First, the main idea is an interesting one. Plenty of science-fiction films have featured robots (Can you imagine the Star Wars films without the droids?), but few have featured a robot in the lead role. We see this robot who is all by himself, and we immediately feel sorry for him -- although, there's no real reason to pity a machine. The fact that he's been left alone to clean up the Earth is an intriguing one, and despite the fact the Director Andrew Stanton claims that the movie doesn't have an ecological message, it's hard to not come away with one. Then, we get to see Wall-E deal with a new entity and a journey which will change everything that he ever knew. Secondly, the movie must be commended for throwing this idea at the audience. Given the fact that the first act is comprised of two robots who can't really talk, the viewer is forced to concentrate on the story and the visuals. The ideas being presented here are pretty hardcore sci-fi stuff (desolate planet, sentient robots, corporations ruling the Earth), especially when one considers that the target audience for this movie is going to be children.

However, the problem with Wall-E is that the story runs out of gas very quickly. Truth be told, Wall-E would have made a great 30-minute short. Unfortunately, the powers that be at Pixar saw a 98-minute film in the idea. So, we are treated to scene after scene which quickly wears out its welcome. We get our first hint of this when Wall-E and Eve are on Earth and there are a few montages of them doing things together. But, this feels excusable, as we assume that the movie is simply trying to establish the characters. However, the second and thirds acts of the movie become incredibly redundant. We get what feels like the same scene over and over again. And when this isn't happening, the movie basically stops to indulge itself, such as when Wall-E and Eve fly through space together. Blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of Director Andrew Stanton. In Finding Nemo, he showed that he loves to stretch out a finale, but he's guilty of stretching out an entire film here, making the whole thing feel like a boring chore.

As with all of Pixar's product, there's no denying the fact that Wall-E is technically impressive. The animation is highly detailed, from the scratches on Wall-E to the star-systems seen in space. And, the use of an intellectual science-fiction plot is admirable. However, the movie is far too long, and can't coast by on characters who have limited appeal and charm. Wall-E does a few things which are cute and funny, but otherwise, it's hard to warm up to these cold characters. The movie drags at a snail pace, and I wouldn't be surprised if children got bored with it. Of course, I should have known something was up when I realized that Wall-E is simply a cross between Number 5 from Short Circuit and Vincent from The Black Hole.

Wall-E cleans up on DVD courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. This must have been a digital-to-digital transfer, as the image is gorgeous. The colors are fine and the long shots on Earth and in space look great. The picture is a bit soft at times, but otherwise it looks fantastic. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an impressive track, as it offers strong stereo effects which show nice speaker separation. In the first act, sound is very important, and we hear every movement which Wall-E makes. The surround sound is pretty good as well, and the spaceship landing provides some very good subwoofer effects.

The Wall-E three-disc DVD set (with the third disc holding the digital copy) contains several extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY by Director Andrew Stanton. This is a pretty good commentary, as Stanton makes some good scene-specific comments and never gets too technical. He talks about the origins of the ideas for the film and mentions how the story changed over time. But, being by himself, he's forced to do a lot of talking and his comments wander away from what we are seeing at times. Next, we have Presto (5 minutes), an animated short about a hungry rabbit and an arrogant magician. This has become my favorite Pixar short, and when compared to Wall-E, it really shows how the Pixar folks can do so much with so little. Burn-E (7 minutes) is a new short created for this release. It focuses on a repair robot aboard The Axiom named "Burn-E" and, in a unique move, ties directly into the Wall-E. There are some cute moments here, but this feels more like deleted scenes rather than a side-story. "Wall-E's Treasures and Trinkets" (5 minutes) is a collection of short skits featuring Wall-E and the other bots. These look as if they could have been animation tests or used as bumpers on a show. "Lots of Bots" (3 minutes) is a storybook read by Kathy Najimy. (Dr. Seuss is rolling in his grave.) The book can also be explored as a sort of game, which brings in John Ratzenberger. "Bot Files" is an interactive piece which allows us to learn more about each bot. The DVD contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 23 minutes and can be viewed with introductions by Stanton. One scene shows how part of the third act was changed between test screenings and the theatrical release. Some of these scenes are complete, while others are animated storyboards. "The Imperfect Lens: Creating the Look of Wall-E" (15 minutes) has Stanton and the filmmakers discussing the look of the film and how the movie had to rely on visuals as opposed to dialogue. Also, they talk about how the movie had a "real" look. In "Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from the Sound Up" (19 minutes), Ben Burtt and Stanton talk about the fact that every sound in an animated film must be created. This is doubly important in Wall-E, as there isn't much dialogue. The history of animation sound is examined and then we look at each character's sounds. "Captain's Log: The Evolution of Humans" (8 minutes) looks at the character designs for the human characters in the film. We see some early concept drawings of the humans, and how the story was changed. "Notes on a Score" (11 minutes) examines the film's music and contains footage of composer Thomas Newman at work. "Life of a Shot: Deconstructing the Pixar Process" (5 minutes) shows the various levels of work which go into creating CGI animation. "Robo-Everything" (6 minutes) explores the thought which went into creating all of the different robots found aboard The Axiom. "Wall-E & Eve" (7 minutes) has the filmmakers discussing the characters, their personalities, and how they were designed. "BnL Shorts" (9 minutes) are three faux videos designed for BnL employees. There are four GALLERIES; Character Design, Layouts & Backgrounds, Visual Development, and Publicity. We get seven TRAILERS for Wall-E. The final extra is the 90-minute documentary The Pixar Story by Leslie Iwerks. This is exactly what is sounds like -- a meticulous look at the founding and history of Pixar and how the studio has changed the face of animation.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has also brought Wall-E to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing absolutely no grain and no defects from the source material. The film has a nearly photo-realistic quality and the opening images show off the transfers incredible amount of detail and depth. The colors look very good and they're never oversaturated. The image is well-balanced and is never too dark or too bright. Overall, great video. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.4 Mbps. (I'm glad to see Disney going with DTS on some of its releases.) This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides very strong stereo effects and these effects are highly detailed -- we can hear every minute squeak and whirr from the robots. The stereo separation is impressive and the audio shifts from side-to-side in a realistic sounding manner. Likewise, the subwoofer effects are good as well, and the spaceship landing had the room shaking. However, the surround effects were a let-down. They are there, but they are quite weak and don't add much to the experience at all.

The Wall-E Blu-ray Disc contains the same extras as the DVD, along with some exclusives. The movie can be viewed in "Cine-Explore" mode, which combines the commentary by Stanton with picture-in-picture examples of concept art and storyboards. One can also choose to watch the movie with the "Geek Track: Trash Talk & Trivia" This offers a Mystery Science Theater 3000-like silhouette where Bill Wise, Lindsay Collins, and Derek Thompson, and Angus McClean provide commentary for the film. (Although the silhouette doesn't play throughout.) Burn-E can be viewed with storyboards in a picture-in-picture screen. "Axiom Arcade" features four set-top games. "3D Set Fly-Throughs" (11 minutes) offer the viewer a closer look at some of the important locations from the film.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long