An animated robot love story with an environmental theme and a slapstick delivery, WALL•E is a charmer of a film and a delightful piece of storytelling. Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) with the animation wizards at Pixar, it takes on the challenge of delivering an animated feature that is predominantly wordless (and even some of those used are closer to sound effects than dialogue) and succeeds with both creative humor and visual grace.
WALL•E is a little mobile trash compactor who putters around a junked and abandoned Earth, sharing his days with a skittering cockroach and finding his pleasures in the little treasures he scavenges from his loads.
The nervous little guy has evolved a personality over the centuries, which makes his isolation all the more poignant as he pines for someone (something?) to hold hands (or whatever you call his clamp-like digits) with. And so he falls in love with a sleek, specimen-gathering pod named Eve and follows her back to her ship, becoming one of those unlikely heroes whose pluck and perseverance overcome impossible odds.
With its long, wordless scenes and mix of slapstick gags and delicate mechanical dances, it doesn’t look or feel like your usual animated feature by Pixar or anyone else, at least until WALL•E finds himself with the physically inert future of the human race. It’s almost like two movies cut together, one with the robots and a somewhat more obvious and less magical one with the fat and complacent mankind willingly bound to a luxury liner spaceship.
The mechanical heroes are more expressive and more engaging than the tubby humans, solely through the mechanics of robot eyes and body language and a symphony of beeps and whistles. If it reminds you of a certain little iconic robot from a hit space opera epic, it’s no coincidence. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt not only does the audio honors here, he’s credited as the voice of WALL•E.
Adults will pick up on a social satire in the portrait of a sedentary population lulled to distraction by a non-stop stream of media signals and small talk while the kids won’t miss the message of ecological responsibility, but the bright gags and childlike expressions of robot affection are so joyous that you can be completely charmed without even noticing the themes.
The DVD release includes two bonus animated shorts – the hilarious Presto (a daffy battle of wits between a stage magician and the rabbit which played before the film in theaters) and the new BURN*E (which takes place in the margins of WALL•E’s odyssey) – but if you want to want to learn why Pixar creates such magic, explore the supplements: the commentary by director Andrew Staunton, the superb “Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from The Sound Up” (a journey through the technical wizardry and artistic creativity behind the magnificent sound design hosted by Oscar winner Ben Burtt) and the deleted scenes with Staunton explaining the hows and whys. There’s much more on the “Special Edition” releases…
Read the rest of it at my DVD column on MSN here.
Also new and notable this week: The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus Collector’s Edition. And now for something completely different: all 45 episodes of the perhaps the most influential, and almost certainly the funniest, sketch comedy show in the history of TV. A bearded and bedraggled Michael Palin croaks the famous “It’s…,” the “Liberty Bell March” chimes in with the theme song, and for thirty minutes five overeducated British comics (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) and an American illustrator (Terry Gilliam) deliver the strangest, most absurd collection of skits to ever emanate from a TV tube. Monty Python rewrote the rules of television comedy and provided some of the most loved comic bits of all time: the Dead Parrot sketch, the Funniest Joke in the World, Nudge Nudge, the classic sing-a-long The Lumberjack Song, The Spanish Inquisition, Argument Clinic, The Cheese Shop, Olympic Hide and Seek Final, and the ever-popular Robin Hood-turned social economist Dennis Moore (“This redistribution of the wealth is trickier than I thought”).
This box set collects the entire series on 14 discs along with another 7 discs of bonus material, including 1982 theatrical release Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (shot during their 1982 American tour and featuring some of their best loved skits in front of a live audience), the 1998 reunion Monty Python Live at Aspen, the 1989 collection Parrot Sketch Not Included: 20 Years of Monty Python, hosted by Steve Martin and featuring a greatest hits sampling of their best work (sans, of course, the Parrot Sketch) and the last complete reunion of the troupe before Graham Chapman’s death (though sadly it’s turned into nothing more than a single shot gag), and the rare Fliegender Zirkus #1, the “lost” German episode from a 1972 West Germany broadcast presented in German with English subtitles. The six previously released “Personal Best” collections of skits and bits selected by each of the members (who team for the Graham Chapman collection) are included on a trio of discs. New to this set are a pair of original documentaries: Before The Flying Circus: A Documentary in Black And White, a 55-minute documentary about the early years of the six men who would become Monty Python, with both archival footage and new interviews (in B&W as promised) of the five surviving Pythons discussing their influences and their pre-Python work (with plenty of clips), and Monty Python Conquers America, a fascinating look at the long, strange odyssey of the Pythons getting their show – and their comedy – to the United States. As the American comics chime in with their remembrances of the show (and the movies and records and other Python endeavors), they brought back memories of my discovery of Python. We all found something new and special and unique and inspiring when we found Python, and it still feels like we’re members of a unique club.
And, of course, there is Star Trek – The Original Series Remastered Collection, which I celebrated with a special piece on my blog here.
Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:
Ben Stiller lampoons the self-important Vietnam movie in his crazed comedy of ego-bloated Hollywood actors lost in the jungle and tangling with an adolescent drug lord. Robert Downey Jr. is the surgically pigmented method actor of the cast and Jack Black, Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson fill out the platoon that couldn’t shoot straight. The theatrical R-rated version is available in a single-disc edition with cast commentary by Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. (remember the line “I don’t drop character until I do the DVD commentary”? Apparently it’s true.).
TV: Charmed: The Complete Series, Little House on the Prairie: The Complete Television Series and Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series:
Creative producer Russell T. Davies and star David Tennant are rumored to be leaving the colorful “Doctor Who” reboot. If so, they leave an epic season behind. Kylie Minogue guest stars in the Christmas Special, a galactic “Poseidon Adventure” on an interstellar spaceship Titanic, and Catherine Tate is his new companion. The apocalyptic epic season climax reunites the Doctor with Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Captain Jack Harkness and Sarah Jane Smith (among others) to take on a Dalek assault on reality itself. “Exterminate! Exterminate!”
Special Releases: Columbia Pictures: The Best Picture Collection (featuring 11 films that took home the Academy Award for Best Picture), D. W. Griffith Masterworks 2 (with five Griffith features and the definitive documentary D.W. Griffith: Father of Film) and the 1952 Fanfan La Tulipe:
French screen legend Gérard Philipe is the seductive scoundrel in the age of Louis XV (when “Women were easy and men engaged in their favorite pastime: War”) in Christian-Jaque’s deft 1952 swashbuckler. Philipe’s dashing rogue is also a headstrong hero with a chivalrous streak and a sassy confidence…. Italian beauty Gina Lollobrigida is dubbed in French but her sex appeal and bountiful décolletage is well showcased in this sprightly comedy with a sardonic edge.
Blu-ray: Band of Brothers:
After Saving Private Ryan in a single mission, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks teamed up to produce a chronicle of the European theater of WWII from a soldier’s eye view on a vast canvas. The resulting ten-hour mini-series won six Emmy Awards (out of 19 nominations) and is, simply put, one of the most powerful and entrancing portraits of men in war ever put on screen.
The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.