Friday, January 23, 2009

The little robot that could

Last night I watched a film which I'm thoroughly sickened wasn't nominated at this year's Oscars for Best Picture - Wall-E.

Having watched the first ten minutes as a form of procrastination in Tunney's Den of Time Wasting (the video feed was out of sync with the sound, which led to a frustratingly early end to proceedings), I was intrigued by the prospect of the film, so I was encouraged to rent it last night when I had precious little else to do. I've never regretted a decision less.

It's not just that the quality of the CGI is breathtaking, or that the environments created are stunning. The characters are intensely likeable and the unlikely romantic story at the film's heart is entirely believable. It's also a film that appeals to all ages - the youngest of children will be enraptured by the colours and the visual setpieces, adults will chew over the food for thought that is the ecological message at the film's heart. But it's the fact that the film works on so many levels which makes it one of, if not the best, films to have been released in 2008.

I was reading some inane trivia about Wall-E (as is my wont with films I watch) and I was amazed by the production process. The team behind the film watched old Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films every lunchtime for a year and a half to capture the visual comedy which shines throughout the film. A human character does not engage in dialogue for 39 minutes. The first half of the film is merely a visual and emotional feast - Wall-E does not need to communicate to us his perceptions and feelings because the filmmakers make us acutely aware of them through various cues. It's an incredible achievement that a film so sparse on dialogue could be nominated for Best Original Screenplay at this year's Oscars.

It's one of the few films which has successfully transcended the traditional prejudices and barriers which cage in animated films and has stood up and been acknowledged in the minds of many "serious" film critics. The only demographic who disliked it were American conservatives, and their loathing thereof was mainly driven by the political slap in the face that Wall-E represented to them.

It rails against the unchained greed of big business and the callous environmental contempt displayed by such companies. It's an ecological wake-up call far more potent that An Inconvenient Truth and makes far more startling observations on the gluttony of humanity than Super Size Me and one which will appeal to a far wider audience than either of those two. Kids don't want to be the fat guy who writhes on his back like a turtle after he's knocked out of his hover-chair and adults will recoil in horror at the hypnotic effects the overdose of technology and advertising has on the passengers of Axiom.

But all of this social commentary is merely a backdrop to the love story which tugs at your heartstrings from beginning to end. Even though you can see the happy ending coming from a mile off (it's a Disney film, come on!), you still fear the worst when times get tough for Wall-E and Eve. It's storytelling at its most seductive.

Evidently, though, its charms were somewhat lost on the ladies and gentlemen of the Academy. The Oscar for Best Animated Picture is already in the bag, but hopefully it'll make the most of the small mercy it has been offered by picking up Best Original Screenplay*. It's the least it deserves.

*Even with this in mind, I still want In Bruges to win. It's Martin McDonagh, like. It's Irish!

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