They're considered the titans of animation
, are revered by their competitors and are beloved around the world. They've won countless Oscars by bewitching audiences with cutting-edge tech married to classic-era storytelling. They're generally considered as unparalleled purveyors of the very highest quality of cinema. So what exactly constitutes a challenge for Pixar any more?
Answer: WALL-E does. Pixar are proven experts of anthropomorphism, successfully blessing toys, fish, bugs and even cars with relatable human characteristics. But what happens when you remove their voice, leaving the visuals to speak for themselves? WALL-E is effectively a silent movie, telling the story of the titular trash-compacting robot who's been left tidying up humanity's mess after they've blasted off into space. With sound guy Ben Burtt's bleeps and whistles the only dialogue you'll hear in the first hour, Pixar's animators have been forced to raise their game even higher than usual - the result is a peerless animation that feels more pure and more heartfelt than any of their movies to date. Which, for those of you that haven't been paying attention, makes WALL-E pretty much one of the greatest animations ever made.
As usual, Pixar takes a universal theme - in this case, mankind's slow desecration of Planet Earth - and ties it to a smaller, personal story. This adventure is an affecting tale indeed: desperately lonely after 700 years of solitary garbage disposal, WALL-E longs for companionship, his only friends being a cockroach - his very own Jiminy Cricket - and his stash of useless trinkets and curios which he salvages from the stacks of rubbish blighting the Earth's surface. It's only when futuristic fembot Eve touches down to search for signs of life that WALL-E's existence takes on true meaning. The film is epic in its scope, yet heart-breaking in its simplicity: that's the Pixar difference.
There's some awe-inspiring artistry on show here. The character design is second-to-none - despite being little more than a bucket of bolts, WALL-E is the cutest Pixar creation to date, those big, gorgeous, watery eyes conveying more emotion than dialogue ever could. Eve is another stunning design, the sleek and sexy iPod to WALL-E's crappy old cassette player. The locations are beautifully rendered - Earth has been reduced to an arid wasteland, crumbling beneath the shadow of decaying skyscrapers and mile-high towers of garbage. There are moments of beauty here that will take your breath away - Eve unleashing a fiery volley of destruction and watching a shipyard burn; WALL-E literally reaching for the stars; the pair's playful chase through the expanses of space - any director would be happy to have shots this well designed in their film. Pick any 24th of a second, frame it and you could hang it on a museum wall. WALL-E is nothing short of a work of art.
But, as always, it's the beating heart beneath the glossy exterior that elevates Pixar movies above mere eye candy. With a (relatively) subversive story that dares to go darker than any Disney animation before it, there's an ever-present sense of danger throughout WALL-E that draws you huddle-close to its characters. Director Andrew Stanton isn't ashamed to roll out the same mad dashes and close shaves that served Finding Nemo so well, but it's testament to the genius of Pixar's animators that you care so damned much
about the characters' fates. The relationship between WALL-E and Eve is a real heart-stroker; forget the friendship of Buzz and Woody, the paternal instincts of Nemo and the family dynamic of The Incredibles
- this is the most tender and touching partnership Pixar has ever crafted. Not once will you want to remove yourself from the moment: if you do, you'll realise you're crying over a robot who just wants someone to hold his hand. Christ, it'd be embarrassing if it wasn't so completely bloody wonderful. You want a challenge now, Pixar? Try topping this.
Even after making over a billion dollars at the box-office, it's heartening to see Pixar still pushing the envelope, raising the bar and striving for excellence. Why? Because Pixar's movies belong to our
generation - they're our Steamboat Willies, our Snow Whites, our Bambis. And as we grow older, our own children will grow up with these timeless characters as we did, cooing in wide-eyed wonder at the imagination displayed within, just like us. Forgive the outpouring of emotion, but it's movies as joyous and uplifting as WALL-E that make that future seem possible - no, probable
. Animation is in safe hands for now, and I for one couldn't be more grateful. Ali