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Some Ramblings - Wall-E
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
wall - e

Here is the challenge - even if it is in the animation realm, where animals talk and behave like humans, and stories woven around them are allegorical enough to reflect the morals, values, beliefs and the ethics of the humans. How can the audience be tricked into believing and even start rooting for inanimate objects? Lifeless objects communicate through their actions. But they still need a living and a breathing entity to bounce off their actions and translate it into emotions - be it happiness, pain or sorrow. Walt Disney showed the way in the ground-breaking animation, for its time, in 'The Sorcerer's apprentice'. Here the entire segment is between the sorcerer and his apprentice, a broom stick, who often goofs up things and is subjected to the ire of his master in the process. It is a comedy segment, obviously, and therefore much of the emphasis is on the comic action of the broom stick, who tries desparately to keep things in order, but fails every time in a grand fashion, earning great jeer from the sorcerer and great cheer from the audience. There, a blueprint was drawn up in regard to the behavior of the inanimate objects, when interacting with the live world. Next in line to throw the gauntlet at the poor lifeless things - with the action part taken care of, what about the emotion? This is the chief reason why animals greatly succeed at replacing humans in the animation world. They have all the faculties that humans are endowed with - expressive eyes and facial contortions - that can instantly convey an emotion. Now, how can an inanimate object, lacking any identifiable features, convey an expression, such as joy and grief, that can tug a string or two of the audience?

Seemingly, as the tag line of the shoe maker Adidas notes, impossible is nothing, when it comes to the wizards of the Pixar studio, who have revolutionized the art of animation through the aid of computer rendering, here is a love story of two robots, who have absolutely no distinguishable features that are even remotely human, and who can each utter only one word ("Wall-E" and "Eva"), creating an innocence, tenderness and warmth, that even humans in live actions movie struggle with most of the times. Pixar had been here before, a couple of movies ago, in "Cars", where every character was an automobile (another inanimate variant), and the story was one about camaraderie, respect and humility. Animating cars was relatively easier, as the big headlights stood for the eyes, and the grill in the front served the purpose of the mouth, and once these key ingredients - eyes and mouth - were in place, the animators were on their way telling their story, with enough assurity that an expression could be easily conjured up to be instantly identifiable with the audience. So even within the world of the lifeless, some are born actors, with eyes and mouths, while some aren't, with flat surfaces. Here is one more variation of the challenge - what if the animators had only one eye and no mouth to play with, like in "Monsters, Inc.". How many different recognizable expressions can be drummed up with just one eye, everything from excited to ecstatic, to downright evil? Cometh the necessity, cometh the creativity - and the audience would vaguely remember, at the end of the movie, that the character had only one eye to start with. Upping the ante even further this time around, how about inhabiting the world with faceless robots, for most of the movie time, who cannot emote, who cannot talk, and who rely purely on the pacing of the actions - fast action to convey excitement, a much slower one to denote thoughtfulness etc. And the central idea of the story - conservation and environmental protection. Who better to talk about this idea (or, not talk, like in this case), than an automaton that is built to eliminate wastage and enhance efficiency?

The central theme of the animation movies have been more or less kid-friendly till now. Respect for elders, friendship, path to adulthood, discovering one's true self - these remained the constant fodder for the animation kind, a tradition that is carried on from the Disney days. Tackling a more serious subject, like the environmental protection, within the mileu of a kid's medium, and making serious points, how humans move into, take over and move out after depleting all the resources, leaving it up to someone else to clean up the mess, gives "Wall-E" a great more gravitas, making it as much a movie for the adults, as it is for the kids. Set in a post-consumeristic setting (that is eerily reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic world), the idea that two robots, one that was meant to clean up the mess that humans left behind, and the other that was sent to discover the traces of life, set about teaching the meaning, the value and the respect for life, is a touch of great genius. It would have been less impacting and only moderately effective, had the same roles been enacted by humans (or, other live) characters. Pixar, which has been trying to push the medium of animation into a more serious and thought provoking arena, found the perfect subject, where it could both score with the kids, in the verve and the zest of its characters, and with the adults, in the poignancy, and the gravity of its themes. What could be a greater achievement for art, when it can both entertain and enlighten, even if the medium is make believe and the characters, lifeless?

More Ramblings on films
The incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones and the kingdom of crystal skull
Speed Racer
Iron Man
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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