The Little Robot That Could
Fourteen years ago, Pixar pioneers Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Docter and the late Joe Ranft met for a now-famous lunch. Toy Story, the fledgling company's first movie, was nearing completion, and the thought suddenly hit them: We might get a chance to make another movie!
The ideas flowed—for A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo. Stanton had a seed of an idea—but no story—of mankind departing Earth and leaving one little robot behind, continuing to do his job faithfully, because somebody forgot to turn him off.
Now, 14 years later, that idea hits theaters as WALL•E, the latest masterpiece from the animated masterminds at Pixar. Stanton, 42, has had a hand in most of Pixar's pictures, but this is only his second film at the helm as director. His first, 2003's Finding Nemo, won an Oscar for Best Animated Picture.
While Nemo was about the bonds of love between a father and son, WALL•E is also a love story—between two inanimate objects. The title character is the aforementioned "little robot left behind," whose daily task consists of picking up trash, compacting it, and putting it in neat piles. But in the rubbish, he learns something of the humans who, 700 years ago, left him behind and now are cruising the galaxy in a space station, waiting for the Earth to become habitable again. WALL•E finds all sorts of gizmos that give him hints about how humans think and feel, but his most telling prize is a VHS tape of Hello, Dolly, which he watches incessantly—and from which he learns something of love and loneliness.
Then along comes a "female" robot named, appropriately, EVE, whose mission is to find plant life in an effort to determine if the Earth is habitable again. Meanwhile, the humans on the space station have grown fat, languid, and disconnected, victims of their own consumerism and, indeed, "consumed" by the hi-tech machines around them. Will our robot hero save the day—and the humans—and get the "girl" all at the same time?
Stanton talked to CT Movies last week about the themes in the film, about how his Christian faith informs his work, and about the creative process at Pixar.
There seem to be some biblical themes in this film. WALL•E is sort of like Adam, the only "guy" on earth, lonely, longing for a companion &hellip?
Andrew Stanton: Yes, and that's certainly why I picked EVE as an appropriate title for the female robot. But "Adam" just didn't have the underdog ring to it as the main character. WALL•E was a little bit more sad sack—and I could find an acronym that could work for that. But definitely it had that first man, first female theme. But I wasn't trying to replace man in the bigger story. I just loved the poetic-ness that these two machines held more care for living and loving than humanity had anymore.
There's also a bit of Noah's Ark story here, with the humans on the space station, waiting for a chance to repopulate the earth—but having to wait till EVE comes back with plant life to indicate it's okay?
Stanton: I wasn't using the Noah's Ark story as a guide, but through circumstances, I loved the parallels of EVE almost being like this dove, of going down for proof that it's time to come back. It just worked in that allegory, so I ran with it.
And that wasn't planned?
Stanton: No, it always works backward. It's more like, Wow, look what this sort of feels like. So you run with those things, because they're very primal. In my mind they're very much in the core of our storytelling. So much of the Old Testament is sort of built into our DNA.