Commentary 26 Jun 2008 07:51 am


- Something tells me this post will get a lot of people angry at me.

There was a bit of a conflict for me on Tuesday night in New York. Bill Plympton screened his film, Idiots and Angels, for much of the animation community here. While Wall-E played at the Academy at 6PM, Plympton’s film started at 4PM. It was a tough hustle to get from one to the other. What was more of a problem for me was having to leave work at 3PM to see Bill’s film. I couldn’t make it work, and I’m sorry I missed it.

I wasn’t as sold on Wall-E as every review I’d read to date. The film, to me, felt less like an animated film than a special effect film.

Spoiler Alert

The story of Wall-E, for those of you who don’t know, is about a robot who has been left on earth (presumably for about 700 years) to try to gather the residue of the planet left behind by the humans. They’ve made earth inhospitable for their own survival. Wall-E is the robot left, with a companion roach, to gather the garbage and compact it into large piles of cubes. He eventually falls in love (robot love) with a more modern robot sent to earth to search for signs of vegetation. Wall-E finds a plant and gives it to her.

Humans have moved to a large spaceship and are treated much too well. They’ve all grown enormously fat not moving from their lounge chairs. The machines are in control, until one human takes charge with the help of Wall-E and brings people back to earth.

Watching the film, it was starting to get claustrophobic while they were on on earth, so I was glad to see them leave. Something had to advance the story. The new world on board the spaceship ends up with robots chasing other robots back and forth, up and down the large ship. It gets awfully tiring, quickly.

The technical abilities are high, and the film is done with the greatest professionalism. But they’re machines being animated, and I never felt close to them. The Iron Giant, from that film, was a hostile, war machine and was supposed to stay a machine, but I felt more for that character than I did for Wall-E or his cutely developed girlfriend, EVE.

The film has a better concept than story. It’s the bane of all movies these days. If you can narrow the story down to one sentence, it’s more concept than story and has a harder time being successful. Wall-E feels a lot like Short Circuit 3 with no humans – for at least the first half.

I was, again, impressed with the incredible artistic abilities of the Pixar people, but I didn’t feel as though I were watching an animated film. It felt like a live action film (until the balloony fat people entered) with high effects. Perhaps that’s a positive; I’m not sure anymore.

Pinocchio, Bambi, Dumbo, Snow White. These films were magic to me as a child. I imagine Wall-E is like every other effects film to today’s children. I can’t imagine it will inspire future generations to get into the field. Maybe, you never know.

I’m sorry I missed Idiots and Angels; I’m sure I’ll see it in Ottawa.

Today’s NY Post gives Wall-E a four star review which ends with, “Some day, there will be college courses devoted to this movie.” The Village Voice‘s glowing review says, “a film that’s both breathtakingly majestic and heartbreakingly intimate.” I can also understand their POV. See it for yourself.


- I wanted to remind those in the New York area that the animated films of Satoshi Kon will be playing at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater.

The complete retrospective starts tomorrow, Friday, and continues through next Tuesday. Go here to see my recent post including the schedule and other information.

I hope to meet Mr. Kon tomorrow and will report on that this Saturday.

18 Responses to “Conflict”

  1. on 26 Jun 2008 at 10:01 am 1.Tim Rauch said …

    I was at the Idiots and Angels screening and would say it’s Bill’s most coherent feature to date. Still a little tough for me to connect to his characters emotionally, they usually seem like grunting things that vacillate between moments of violence and moments of eroticism. Maybe that’s what people are really like???

    I’m looking forward to seeing Wall E, I hope it’s just your personal taste that turned you off, bc it does look like a beautiful film and the concept SOUNDS good. Pixar has made some films I don’t care for but many that I thought were terrific.

  2. on 27 Jun 2008 at 4:50 am 2.slowtiger said …

    The Wall E trailers got me – until the moment the alien robot was introduced. From there on, I didn’t like it. Looking forward to see the whole thing – but frankly, there are humans in the film? I’m already disappointed.

  3. on 27 Jun 2008 at 8:05 am 3.Michael said …

    Yes there are humans and it confused me. Inexplicably, live action humans appear in the film’s start and through Fred Willard’s shenanigans on “video” screens. However, the humans, later in the film, are animated. They look nothing alike, of course, and I was not able to accept the possibility of a transition from one to the other.

    More glowing reviews can be found here:
    NY Times “…a cinematic poem of such wit and beauty that its darker implications may take a while to sink in”
    NY Daily News “Summer’s cutest love story”

  4. on 27 Jun 2008 at 3:59 pm 4.greg said …

    i dont know how you can say it wasnt “animated”…they made a cube and an egg emote clearly and effectively with little to no dialog or facial features…correct me if I’m wrong, but isnt that the ultimate goal of animation? to breath life and personality into something that isn’t real. not to mention the array of dynamic poses wall-e was able to hit. again..hes a cube with treads…and yet he was less stiff than half the animated characters out there. I’m pretty sure thats the HEIGHT of animation’s intent.

    as for the humans, that was also a clever element…700 years of sloth and zero gravity causing the human race to lose all their bone and muscle mass…haha…you couldnt accept the possibility?..its a cartoon. thats the beauty of the medium, who cares what human logic deems as possible…anything can be done. and yeah, it was far fetched, but on that note, so is the ENTIRE premise of that film or any other animated film ever created. you can’t accept extreme obesity…buy you can accept a magic mirror, a flying elephant, a talking deer, or a wooden boy? its called imagination, and as a society we lack it these days. the most ignorant criticism for an animated film is “it was bad because thats not possible”.

    i love how you started this post off with the fact that a lot of people are going to be mad at you…haha, just goes to show youre begging for a reaction arent you?…unfortunately you got one out of me…but i guess thats just part of the internet and the blogging world, any idiot can post their opinion.

    i’m not married to this film, but it just bothers me that in the animation community, everyone has something critical to say about everyone else’s work…and its usually not constructive.
    can you make a better film? if so, go do it…if not, keep your mouth shut unless you have a well founded, constructive opinion. stop fueling the already jaded bolgging world and be thankful that there are people still creating this art form.

  5. on 27 Jun 2008 at 4:05 pm 5.greg said …

    again…you dont have to like it…but give us a better reason than whining that the special effects were too good.
    im sure you can do better than that

  6. on 27 Jun 2008 at 9:20 pm 6.Michael said …

    Greg, I’m glad you liked WALL-E, but I had mixed feelings. I have no reason to be provocative. I don’t care whether it gets a reaction out of you. It’s my blog, and I’m writing how I felt about the film.

    The story was better than the Indiana Jones 3 film, but I have little desire to see animated robots and spaceships especially when the goal was to make them photorealistic. That’s why I felt it was a special effects film.

    Just as Indiana Jones had acceptable animation of the ghosts and the environments, WALL-E had fine animation of the robots. The story was good for an effects film, but my preference was for Toy Story 1 or 2.

    I thinnk Pixar is doing everything they can to move toward live-action. Like the backgrounds in CARS, this film had realistic environments; that wasn’t what I wanted.

    You did, and I’m glad you were pleased with it. Many others enjoyed it as well (see any other review), and I hope they make a ton of cash. Pixar is still the most capable of making the best animated commercial features, snd I want them to succeed.

  7. on 28 Jun 2008 at 4:26 am 7.slowtiger said …

    Maybe I should clarify that I wanted to see Wall-E very much because of the first part of the trailer. I wanted to see it because there was a little robot, just made from a cube and some wheels and stuff, who showed more emotion than I had ever seen from Hanks Reeves Travolta in their whole career …

  8. on 28 Jun 2008 at 4:37 am 8.Chris said …

    According to Stanton the almost photo realism of the first act was to make Wall-E’s situation feel believable to the audience. I too have issues with Pixar’s preference for realistic backgrounds but I felt Ratatouille was a huge leap forward in cartoony human character design in CG films so hopefully they can make that leap with backgrounds in the future. However it sounds like you are disregarding all the great elements of the film simply because of the photorealism, which I’m sure was present to sell the idea the robots are utilitarian machines first and then develop personalities later.

    Did you have any thoughts on the new short Presto? I thought the gags were funny but ultimately didn’t connect with the characters as much as the alien student driver in Lifted. But my real issue with it was the ending which just seemed to fall flat after the terrific build up of gags. I couldn’t explain it immediately but after more thought I felt like it needed an iris out at the end (like the 40′s shorts it emulated) and the soft transition to show posters and the cleverly designed credits killed the pacing of the short.

  9. on 28 Jun 2008 at 9:34 am 9.Michael said …

    PRESTO wasn’t playing at the screening I attended. I haven’t seen it.

    I also haven’t dismissed anything exceptional about this film, and I know it’s a lot. I’m just expressing my dissatisfaction with the Pixar direction to take cgi into a realistic level tieing their work closer in with special effects work – as in the Indiana Jones film – than in animation work – as in the great Disney films.

    I am an animator, and special effects animation is not what I hope for in an animated. Even if the special effects creates a character.

    I would also not be a fan of a film starring CP3O and other robots – even if they were animated. It’s not my cup of tea. It doesn’t mean it’s bad; it’s not to my taste.

    The NYTimes has an interactive piece which has Andrew Stanton breaking down a sequence from the film. Watch it. He says, “It is tough to define the idea of effects because the entire movie is an effect.” He’s right.

  10. on 28 Jun 2008 at 3:29 pm 10.Philip Crow said …

    I agree with you Michael, my girlfriend and I thoroughly did not enjoy this film. It moved entirely too slow for our tastes throughout the whole film, we felt nothing for the characters and the realism was definitely off-putting. Because of all the great reviews,I was expecting at least the greatest animation out there, but it just didn’t do it for me. I really do not recommend this movie to see in theaters, I believe Horton Hears a Who is a much better piece of animation as in Kung Fu Panda. Those are my cups of tea.

  11. on 28 Jun 2008 at 10:19 pm 11.daniel thomas macinnes said …

    I would only be upset if I visited this site and found endless glowing praise. I prefer the criticism, especially criticism from a fellow artist. It helps to keep me honest.

    I’ve discovered that I’m more lenient towards Pixar’s movies, but this is because I’m a great fan of animation and I do honestly think they can break the artform through to the new paradigm. As always, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki sit at the center of my universe, like Christ and the Buddha. Hah! How’s that for a line? I listen to endless Terence McKenna lectures at work, so that’s probably why.

    Anyway, back to Wall-E. I really loved the movie, adored the first act, was very pleasantly shocked at the satire of the second act – it’s the animated Idiocracy – but somewhat let down by the third act. It’s as though Stanton and his team couldn’t find a way to end the picture. They couldn’t land the plane. It’s clear they waned the robot lovers together and the humans back on the Earth. But how? It’s as though they got stuck at this point. The end result is a lot of 2001 riffing and fast action. It’s fun to watch, but not engaging. It’s just a mathematics exercise.

    This is why I say Wall-E is a transitional film. I’ve also made the comparison to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul. Pixar is making strides in new directions, but they haven’t reached the promised land yet. They’re still doing better than anyone else in America, though. I just groaned and hid under my hat during all those horrble previews. Talking dogs? More? Why?

    The mantra for every lover of animation from here on out: Thank God For Ponyo. And Persepolis on DVD, wink wink.

    Oh, and if you really want to get some hate mail, just do what I did: write something nasty about Stryper or The Boondock Saints.

  12. on 29 Jun 2008 at 2:21 pm 12.Jenny said …

    What I don’t understand is how someone would have found your blog and comments here when obviously they have no idea who you are, what your history is or your resume. I mean, you’re not some joe off the street(although imo any reaction to any film would be just as valid if you were).
    The sudden influx of argumentative comments makes me suspect there are some fans out there just looking for less-than-ecstatic reviews the better to argue them. You show a lot more restraint and class than I think I’d be capable of. I will take a page from your playbook and attempt to respond as gracefully next time someone insults me-it’ll happen, I’m sure. ; )

    I’m curious as to what you think of “Presto” when you are able to see it; it may not be until the AA submissions at this point, I guess. Btw, have you watched the DVD compilation of Pixar’s shorts, of have you a memory of seeing them all in the theater? It’s odd to think now how many millions probably don’t know the output of the years before “Toy Story” was done.

  13. on 30 Jun 2008 at 7:29 pm 13.Tim Hodge said …

    I agree with you, Michael. The visuals are so lush, dense and realistic, I was expecting a plot to match.

    As I have stated elsewhere, it was like walking into a posh 5-star restaurant and getting an Outback Steakhouse filet. I like a good filet, but I was expecting something with more meat and spice.

    I thought the story was beautifully told and was amazed at the depth of emotion that they got out of the robots, but it was a small, sweet story, not epic and sweeping to match the visuals.

    I have a longer review on my blog if anyone is interested:

    Oh, and I loved the new short, “Presto”! Tex Avery would be proud.

  14. on 01 Jul 2008 at 1:00 am 14.Thad said …

    What a poor film. I posted my thoughts, and I have no desire to see it or revisit it again. Stick to your guns, Michael.

  15. on 01 Jul 2008 at 9:11 am 15.Michael said …

    Sorry, Thad. I didn’t say it was a “poor” film. As a matter of fact, so far it’s one of the better films of the year. (Though that’s not saying much.) I just didn’t think it was more than a “special effect” kinda movie. The fat people could have been live action (and probably would have been better if they were), and it wouldn’t have affected the movie.

    In thinking about it, I wish they hadn’t gone off into space. Perhaps the ship could have come back down to earth after vegitation is found and we could have seen how they readjusted to returning to the planet. It might have been better than running up and down, back and forth, in and out of the ship. A wild goose chase without a real ending.

  16. on 01 Jul 2008 at 9:51 am 16.Thad said …

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. I still say it’s a poor film. If Pixar is commercial animation’s greatest hope, we’re in big trouble.

  17. on 16 Jul 2008 at 11:40 am 17.Ricardo Cantoral said …

    I just saw this film yesterday and this decay Pixar is both pathetic and sad.

    My review:

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