In 1995, people were asking if an audience could tolerate a feature-length film of computer-generated images. Members of the press literally asked if it was possible to watch a CG movie without getting motion sickness. I was ten years old and knew it was a dumb question. I saw Toy Story, thoroughly enjoyed it, but didn’t think much of its implications towards the direction of movie animation. 2D was dead; long live 2D.
Rather, after a string of poor and under-performing traditionally animated films, the Powers That Be deemed computer animation to be the way of the future. Of course, CG imagery is just a tool and doesn’t make bad movies good. "Computer generated" is itself a misleading term – as if a few clicks and taps of the space bar conjures up the digital computer god to make a movie from nothing; it takes an army of engineers and artists with computers as their sometimes-tool to make a CGI movie.
I recently watched Toy Story again for the first time in many years, and was surprised by how good it is. The technological limitations of 1995 computers did nothing to limit the story and vision of the film, and most of all, its characters. It holds up to repeated viewings and I can now see the subtle homages that were far over my head in '95. Most of all, Buzz and Woody and their friends have been inducted into the Disney pantheon of heartwarming characters.
The years have gone by, my cynicism has ebbed and flowed, the world has changed, and yet Pixar has virtually owned American feature-length animation for thirteen years. I say that from a critical perspective, rather than with box-office performance in mind. Money has been made by many.
With the studio's newest film, WALL-E, directed by the company's ninth employee and Nemo-helmer Andrew Stanton, not only do they continue to dominate, but they are reinventing what an animated film can be, and, possibly, are changing the perception of animation as a mere child's genre into the film medium that it is.
WALL-E needs to get a nomination for best picture of the year. Not just best animated film. I was just astonished the entire time. In that there is such sparse dialogue is it unique, in that there is such heartfelt emotion is it a success, in that it makes no compromises to mainstream pop-culture animation is it a Pixar film. And, in between a dozen layers of universal appeal, it perfectly captures the difficulty of being a romantic geek in a very big world. Not that I would know anything about geekiness.
Just go watch when you get a chance. It's about robots and love and the faults of consumerist-driven humanity and I don't care to say more or less than that. The opening short Presto alone is worth the ticket.
If you want to hear about the film's faults, its weakness is really any time WALL-E is not central to the narrative – the other characters are never quite as interesting or endearing as he, and so you can't help but wait until he returns to view. But he's never off-screen for too long.
Nonetheless, Pixar has a new badge, Disney has a new character, and the film vaults will long hold this one dear and safe. I, myself, will return to WALL-E repeatedly, in the theater, and over the years.