Something happened last night that I never thought could happen.Â I waited in line for a midnight showing of a G-rated movie.Â I stood in the lobby of the local AMC 20, next to a skinny, teenage kid dressed up as a boxy, yellowish robot with tank treads, and stared across the hall at a line of people waiting to see “Wanted,” the brash, gun-toting, slap-your-mother ultra-violent Mark Millar-adaptation. And as I watched them, I thought to myself, “Heh, losers.”Â Obviously they had chosen the wrong movie to see that night. How could they possibly want to see anything else other than Pixar’s newest, possibly greatest masterpiece, a two-hour-long space-opera with barely any dialogue about robots who sift through garbage?Â It was “Wall-E.”Â And it was on.
So, today, it’s “Wall-E,” Pixar’s newest advancement in computer-animated awesomeness, against the grand-daddy of them all, the first authentic feature-length computer-animated film ever, “Toy Story.”Â We all know the deal there — toys come to life.Â Done.Â We’re hooked. And ever since the film’s first screening, we’ve been running out of our front doors shouting “To Infinity and Beyond!” as we left for work each morning (you haven’t?).Â So let’s pit one set of talking inanimate objects against another set of sort-of-talking inanimate objects.Â Let the best merchandise win!
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Way, way back, back before “Toy Story” was produced and Pixar was the animated behemoth that it is today, Andrew Stanton created Wall-E. A small, “short-circuit”-styled robot (whose name is actually an acronym for the phrase “Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class”) Wall-E is the last of a line of robots left on Earth to clean up the mess we’ve made. Due to years of gorging consumerism, the planet has been left a giant trash-heap, too littered to possibly sustain life. In a grand gesture of social responsibility, the mega-conglomerate Buy ‘N Large Corporation has encouraged humanity to take a 5 year “vacation” away from the planet, allowing their robots stay behind and restore Earth to a livable state while we all relax pool-side. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.
“Wall-E” opens approximately 700 years afterÂ humanity’s vacation should have ended and Earth is still largely aÂ junkyard. All of the Buy ‘N Large robots have been deactivated save forÂ our our protagonist, Wall-E, who spends his days compressing trash intoÂ neat, stackable blocks and sorting through garbage for interestingÂ knick-knacks that he can bring home with him (Wall-E is a bit of aÂ pack-rat.) Unfortunately for Wall-E, this job is a lonely one. AsideÂ from his pet cockroach, he is the only real inhabitant of thisÂ forgotten world, whose experiences with love are limited to theÂ live-action musicals he’s found amid the trash-heaps.
However,Â this all changes when a large spaceship suddenly lands near Wall-E’sÂ home and deploys EVE, a sleek, flying, all-business, blaster-wieldingÂ probe, with whom Wall-E instantly falls in love.Â It is Wall-E’sÂ courtship of EVE that then pushes the narrative, sending the timidÂ little robot on an adventure into outer space and back to the humanityÂ that had long forgotten him. The film is fun, jaw-dropping-ly beautifulÂ and packed with some high-concept ideas, but will all that be enough toÂ knock off a defending champ that has been called one of the top tenÂ animated films EVER? Read on to find out!
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The Defending Champion
1995 marked a new era of cinema. Computer animation had yet to proveÂ itself with regard to feature film, having since acted primarily as aÂ complementary special effects vehicle and rarely as a stand- loneÂ medium over extended time periods. And then seemingly out of nowhere,Â “Toy Story” happened and told the story of an outdated, wooden cowboyÂ doll Woody’s rivalry with Buzz Lightyear, a flashy, brash space-heroÂ action-figure over the attentions of their young owner.Â For the lastÂ thirteen years, this film’s been a measuring stick for the animatedÂ genre. Named by the American Film Institute (during their evaluation ofÂ top genre films) as one of the top 10 greatest animated films in the history of cinema, “Toy Story” began what has become an continuousÂ series of successes for the endlessly imaginative production companyÂ Pixar. The words “To Infinity and Beyond”Â are a staple of popularÂ culture, referenced time and again in areas ranging from entertainmentÂ to mathematics (it’s true, wikipedia it) and it is still a majorÂ favorite of children and adults today. With its breathtaking animation, smart comedy and warming-ly intimate story, it has been easily theÂ fighter to fear when it comes to animated throw-downs.
Boasting superstars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen (youÂ loved Home Improvement), it is a franchise to be reckoned with, oneÂ that could easily dominate not only the majority of its animatedÂ cousins, but live- ction works as well. It is pure, wonderful cinemaÂ that has been a fan-favorite for the last 13 years; a true people’sÂ champion. But what laid the foundation for computer animated films isÂ now being tested by a tiny, garbage-collecting robot that the foundersÂ of Pixar have been tinkering with since even before the toys came toÂ life. Can “Toy Story” hang on to it’s title or will “Wall-E” stand onÂ the shoulders of its forefather as the new champion of animated film?Â Let’s see how they stack up!
“Toy Story” set the barÂ for computer-animated film and laid some amazing groundwork for whatÂ future artists would continuously build upon and be inspired by. TheÂ fact that its animation still holds up 13 years since its completion,Â when the computer-animated film has become a mainstay in yearlyÂ releases and one that is being constantly upgraded, speaks for itself.
In terms of cast, “Toy Story” hits big. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen playingÂ off each other as Woody and Buzz feels so right that despite hearingÂ that Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal and others had beenÂ considered, I cannot even fathom possible replacements. Voice-acting isÂ largely underestimated, but not anyone can make “To Infinity andÂ Beyond” or “Reach for the Sky” pop-culture mainstays. And the talentÂ doesn’t just end with the two stars. The whole film is wonderfullyÂ acted by a cast that only ever complements their CGI counterparts,Â bringing them to life so skillfully that we largely forget who it isÂ we’re listening to. With such big stars, that’s an accomplishment inÂ itself.
Watching toys come to life was, to use an obviousÂ word, magical and yet the creators worked to make it simultaneously asÂ natural an occurrence as anything else. We were transported to theirÂ world, seeing things the way they saw them and we were instantly hookedÂ in. What is so great about “Toy Story” is that the artists brought theÂ toys to life without trying to hard to make them seem like “real.” TheyÂ were still toys, made of artificial moving parts and hinges that onlyÂ work so far, largely staying true to their inherent physics. WoodyÂ wasn’t a Pinnochio, he wasn’t transformed into a real live cowboy, butÂ always remained what he was and simultaneously something more, a woodenÂ toy that could walk and talk when no one was watching.
And this reminder to keep the toys toys was helpedÂ out by the script, which uses gag after gag to show that despite theirÂ lofty aspirations they are still limited to the constraints of the realÂ world, exemplified very well through the “intense” trials of the littleÂ green soldiers. We watch as they grapple with everyday objects, whichÂ now seem all the more overpowering due to our newly found vantageÂ point, through the eyes of the little toys. Or watching Buzz’s attemptÂ to fly, which is heartbreaking during his first failure andÂ jump-out-your-seat cheer-inducing during the final “falling with style”Â moments. The teleportation to their world that we experience isÂ something we’ve dreamt about since we were kids, when we’d use ourÂ imagination to bring our toys to life, racing cars on sofas and tableÂ tops, pretending they were giant cliffs and raceways. With “Toy Story”Â we actually get to ride along with them, and these everyday settingsÂ become engaging, awe-inspiring environments as we are shrunken down toÂ the toys’ size. Their story is an intimate one and yet seems epic whenÂ seen from their point of view, making a grand adventure of the tiniestÂ of things.
“Wall-E” is, without understatement, a masterpiece.Â Visually, the film is stunning. Rumored input by renowned cameramenÂ such as Roger Deakons (No Country for Old Men, Assassination of JesseÂ James) has most decidedly paid off as the film feels as the lighting isÂ breathtaking and the film feels as though a real operator was behindÂ the lens, racking focus throughout shots, naturally moving the camera,Â really putting the audience into the action and life of Wall-E. IÂ mention this first because it is here that the technical innovationÂ that makes “Wall-E” so impressive really stands out. Usually, withÂ animated features, we do not feel the impact that having a real cameraÂ moving around a real space subconsciously imprints on an audience.Â “Wall-E” has that. “Wall-E”‘s worlds are crafted so carefully, soÂ intricately that the camera work makes us feel that we are in an actualÂ place, transporting us there, blurring the line between animation andÂ live-action and achieving something that genre has been reaching forÂ since the creation of Toy Story. I was awed by it.
Coupling that visual precision is sound design unlikeÂ anything I’ve ever heard. Benn Burtt is a master, taking a film withÂ almost no dialogue (there is some, but its minor) and creating aÂ language for the robot protagonists that becomes their own,Â simultaneously natural and synthetic and that which allows us toÂ identify them as something special and yet reachable, characters thatÂ we can connect with and understand. I personally witnessed a jam-packedÂ theater (at a midnight showing for a G- ated movie!) fall in love withÂ a beeping, buzzing, synthesizer-sounding robot almost as instantly asÂ he in turn fell in love with EVE. When asked about the sound-design andÂ the lack of dialogue, Stanton joked, “I’m basically making R2D2: TheÂ Movie.” Well, R2D2 doesn’t hold a candle to Wall-E in terms ofÂ personality and character, and much of that owes itself to Burtt’sÂ amazing sound design. An amusing example of his mastery, which becameÂ both audience pleaser and favorite gag, was the sound that Wall-E makesÂ when his power levels reach full charge, the dim startup chime of anÂ Apple IIE computer. Easily recognizable, the simple sound received notÂ only immense laughter but applause. There was no scoffing andÂ it seemed much more a loving detail to a great character than a popÂ culture reference and product placement point. When a single noise isÂ putting hands together from an audience, you know you’ve got somethingÂ special.
In the end, I have to note that both these films are as near toÂ perfect as one can find. In trying to discern a credible winner, IÂ believe it comes down to a recognition of both projects’ strengths andÂ an acknowledgment of the evolution of the computer-animated genre, muchÂ of which owes itself to Pixar’s achievements. “Toy Story” is a classicÂ film and the unshakable base upon which artists can build. “Wall-E” isÂ the hope to keep raising the bar. So which one wins out in this latestÂ Smackdown? Let’s find out!
Though I could probably make the case otherwise, I will stand by myÂ belief that neither the stunning visuals nor sound design would haveÂ been enough to carry this film alone and that it is their complement ofÂ an epic, yet intimate and simply dazzling script that really pullsÂ everything together. As I stated before, “Wall-E” contains very littleÂ dialogue, a note that most studios would probably raise quite theÂ eyebrow given the approximate 2 hours that the film runs. Much of theÂ time, all we hear our main characters say are each other’s names,Â resulting in a constant back-and-forth of “Wall-E…EVE…Wall-E…EVE”Â that could seem rather troubling on the page. However, none of thisÂ stumbles.Â The characters’ relationship is engaging, intimate andÂ layered and we are with them every step of the way.Â The film’s scopeÂ is epic, but the story’s heart is small and focused on the love storyÂ between Wall-E and EVE. On-the-nose material such as humanity’sÂ progression toward mass- besity, multimedia obsession, mental lethargyÂ and planetary irresponsibility could have called attention toÂ themselves and drawn audiences out of the film if mishandled, but theÂ creators never allow these ideas to overshadow the core focus of theÂ narrative and always keep the audience with the two lovers and theirÂ relationship. And did I mention that the script is peppered with momentÂ after moment of genius comedy?
Impossible as it may be to believe, we have a new heavyweight animated champion and action figure of the world, “Wall-E.”
Our entire family went to see â€œWall-Eâ€ in Redwood City on the night of the 4th of July. The theater was awesome, the film looked and sounded spectacular and thereâ€™s a lot of charm and laughter. Butâ€¦ For me, it showed the Pixar style in wonderful form, yes, but in the same way that â€œRatatouilleâ€ looked great but put me off with a rat in the kitchen, this one fell short because it was preachy, logically inconsistent and the entire space ship second half really lost the emotional through-line in favor of goofy fatties in space. On the other hand, â€œToy Storyâ€ really delivered on its emotions of longing, friendship and team spirit. â€œToy Storyâ€ moves me, even today, but â€œWall-Eâ€ was a momentary diversion. The fireworks we saw immediately after the film, for me, packed a better punch.
Anyone who doesn’t like Toy Story more than Wall-E it is messed up and that is not what Woody’s saying.
Hmm, I don’t think there’s an animated film on the planet that would ever be able to knock Toy Story (and even it’s sequel) off that almighty perch, no matter how hard they try. Wall-E, for all it’s brilliant animation and storytelling, doesn’t quite hold up to the sheer exuberant natural high you get from watching Buzz and Woody in their prime. The second half of Wall-E got a little preachy, in my opinion, which probably did sway me off it a little. Still, I think we’re nitpicking over so small a thing as this, it’s probably not that big an issue. Still: Toy Story stands tall and proud as the greatest computer animated film of all time.
Our entire family went to see “Wall-E” in Redwood City on the night of the 4th of July. The theater was awesome, the film looked and sounded spectacular and there’s a lot of charm and laughter. But… For me, it showed the Pixar style in wonderful form, yes, but in the same way that “Ratatouille” looked great but put me off with a rat in the kitchen, this one fell short because it was preachy, logically inconsistent and the entire space ship second half really lost the emotional through-line in favor of goofy fatties in space. On the other hand, “Toy Story” really delivered on its emotions of longing, friendship and team spirit. “Toy Story” moves me, even today, but “Wall-E” was a momentary diversion. The fireworks we saw immediately after the film, for me, packed a better punch.
Hmnm. I think this is too tough to call. From a technical level, Wall-E wins anytime, but from a story point of view, I agree with Bryce about the overt preachy-ness of Wall-E. Toy Story remains the champion in my eyes, although Wall-E is still the best film to arrive this year. Both are brilliant.
Having just come back from seeing Wall-E, I have to agree with Bryce. Great technical achievement, but emotionally nowhere near as satisfying as Toy Story, or really most other Pixar offerings.
I agree with out a question. Wall-E wins hands down. Best film of the year, and doesn’t look to be moving anytime soon.
Review for Wall-E on my site. 🙂