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WALL-E

Bear with me – this might be a challenging review to write. For one thing, I don't want to overdo it. The movie is spellbinding, but I won't do it (or you) any favors by resorting to my usual effusive Pixar gushing. Also, I can't give anything away. The movie isn't full of twists and surprises, but it's unusual enough that knowing less is better. I went in knowing nothing: since the teaser trailer at the start of Ratatouille, I've avoided almost all information about WALL-E. Maybe this explains the absolute wonder I experienced during the first half of the movie, and maybe it's just that good. Just in case, I don't want to spoil anything. I'm writing a review I would have willingly read yesterday. (And I wasn't even looking at headlines about WALL-E before I saw it.)

The first thing you'll notice about WALL-E is that it's unlike anything you've ever seen before. Especially from Pixar. Pay attention to the lighting, the pacing, and the camera angles in the early scenes. I admittedly watch Pixar's movies more attentively than anyone not on their payroll, but I think in this case the distinction is startling enough that everyone will feel it on some level. In a family movie, this style is unprecedented. It's a risky gamble: children are accustomed to bouncier, flashier fare like Madagascar 2 with bright colors and nonstop silliness. But Pixar has an ace in the hole: they are frickin' geniuses. Spend two minutes with WALL-E and you fall in love with him. Nobody else can bring across character in such simple, subtle strokes – few would be daring enough to try. Michael Bay forced the animators to put lips on Optimus Prime – WALL-E doesn't even have a face. (By the way, if you're like me and you thought the only redeeming part of Transformers was its intricate gadgets, WALL-E takes it to a whole new level.)

Younger viewers will certainly bond with WALL-E – whether they'll prefer WALL-E to Kung Fu Panda is another question, and I've learned not to hope for too much. It isn't easy, challenging audiences to expect more from their entertainment, but I'll take comfort in the fact that history will judge Pixar to be the winner. Twenty years from now, we'll see that computer animation was a fad, but while everyone else was cashing in on the flavor of the week, Pixar was doing something special. In fact, if WALL-E is as successful and acclaimed as it deserves to be, it just might change the way we make movies. Who wants to watch penguins surf (or – Jeebus – Chihuahuas) when you can see something like this?

But, like I said, I don't want to overdo it. The film does have normal elements. The characters are great, and the style and pace are unique, but past the halfway point the story feels less otherworldly and more like something you might have experienced before. In a way, it's a relief – like having a "pinch me" moment to confirm you haven't slipped into some parallel dimension where this is what movies are like. But if anyone's going to detract from WALL-E (aside from the cranky types who always want to knock Pixar down a peg), this might be why. The ending is clever and fun, and it complements the first half nicely, but it isn't as brain-meltingly astonishing. (I can live with that; it's hard to drive home with a fully melted brain.)

Ira Glass once said of They Might Be Giants, "I feel bad for them; if they want to hear this kind of music, they have to go and make it." I feel the same way about Pixar, not that they are complaining. Nobody else approaches filmmaking like this, and we're profoundly lucky they do. The summer movie is far from dead, but it could certainly use a little life breathed back into it. In Mary Shelley's day, that's exactly what it meant to "animate." Pixar has done it with a rusty little bag of bolts, why shouldn't they do it to the whole film industry?

Wait... did I overdo it?

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