The Set of 400: #33 – My Favorite Lightning Umbrella

Today! Because rather than try to fix this problem, it’ll just be easier if everyone remains in space –

WALL·E (2008)

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Starring Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin (x2), Fred Willard (x2), John Ratzenberger (x8), Kathy Najimy (x3), Sigourney Weaver (x6), Donald Fullilove (x4), Laraine Newman (x3)

The glorious summer of 2008 returns with the greatest animated film of all time. That’s right, the top dog in the entire game. You might be sputtering and muttering about all the wonders of Dumbo right now, but stuff it! You might want to rage about how Spirited Away is criminally underseen and deserves more recognition, but save that snobby tripe for someone else! You might want to go on about how Inside Out is clearly Pixar’s masterpiece, and…you might have a point. It wasn’t eligible for this list. But as far as the vast history of animated cinema up to the end of 2013 is concerned, it’s WALL·E at the mountaintop.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt that it is my favorite animated film – #33 is as high as the genre managed – but this wasn’t one that needed to grow on me. I’ve been saying almost since the first time I saw it that WALL·E was the best I’d ever seen, and that hasn’t really changed since (again, except for maybe Inside Out, and maybe the Into the Spider-Verse movie). But anyone who tells you that the golden age of animation was the old world Disney classics (e.g. Bambi, Cinderella, Song of the South) or the ’90s revival (Aladdin, Lion King, er, Hercules) is too stuck in the past to argue with. The Pixar run from 2003 to 2010, which included Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL·E, Up, Ratatouille, and Toy Story 3 (and Cars) is the golden age of cartoon films.

But (just to emphasize) not because of Cars

The main complaint against WALL·E might be that the second half of the film doesn’t quite hold up to the first. This is probably fair, as the first half is one of the more dazzling achievements in movie history, so it was bound to drop off once the movie jumps into outer space. However, I think the Axiom half of the film gets a bad rap. Sure, the post-apocalyptic Earth sequence is amazing and funny and gorgeous and thrilling in ways the rest of the movie can’t quite compete with, but the more in-depth satire and skewering of our modern lives all takes place on the ship. The terrific man vs. machine aspects of the third act work to wrap the film up nicely, and there are some genuinely harrowing/touching moments in that perilous stretch before the finale.

But oh man, from the first strains of “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” against the backdrop of the cosmos down to the decimated, trash heaped planet and meeting the ’60s musical fan/garbage compactor robot, we are faced with as bleak (and not unrealistic) a nightmare scenario as has ever been the basis for an ostensible comedy. But this Buster Keaton-esque first act manages to maintain a light touch amidst global horror brilliantly – even once the sleek, late ’00s Apple-inspired robot of WALL·E’s affections arrives to kick the plot into high gear.

Also, WALL·E and EVE – the greatest love story ever told?

I realize I’ve referred to a few movies on this list as being miraculous – that on paper they should not have a chance of working, and if any little choice had blown up in the creative team’s face it might’ve ruined the entire project – but nowhere is that more apt than here. It seems with Pixar, the higher the concept the bigger the payoff (Inside Out obviously, but also Coco, the Toy Storys, etc.), but even they have sometimes reached a bit far and come up short (I know some people love Monsters, Inc. but besides the terrific finale, it’s kinda meh). WALL·E seems to have the biggest challenge, the larger degree of difficulty, and it manages to transcend the societal assumptions of what an animated movie can be and comes as close to high art as the genre has ever managed. It really is a miracle (and I swear I’ll stop referring to movies this way).

And that’s it for animation on this list! 25 films made the cut – just over 6% of the list – with five in the top 100. Thirteen came from the traditional wing of Disney animation (14 if you count #379 Nightmare Before Christmas, which I’m not sure you should), while Pixar has five, Dreamworks three (#177 Shrek, #297 How to Train Your Dragon, #385 Bee Movie), and one each from Fox (#234 The Simpsons Movie), Paramount (#49 South Park), and Sony (#387 Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs). Four of the five Pixars ended up in the top 38% (WALL·E, #97 The Incredibles, #137 Toy Story, and #152 Toy Story 3 – Toy Story 2 was #240), while the Disney films stretched from The Lion King all the way back at #391 to 1996’s Hunchback of Notre Dame (my favorite Disney movie, apparently!) at #88.

Way to go, Quasimodo!

A bunch of advancing voice talent, including new Six-Timer Sigourney Weaver, only one behind actress guild leaders Madeline Kahn and Carrie Fisher, and our ninth Eight-Timer/Pixar staple John Ratzenberger!

Coming tomorrow! How happy I could be with either of these women if both of them just went away –

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