"Wall-E" elicited such a strong emotional response I feel almost guilty not to have been overwhelmed the way I expected.
Right now, it is still occupying the same spot it conquered on IMDb's Top 250, along with with "The Dark Knight" (although a bit lower). Those were the two cinematic events of the year and they seem to have stand the test of time and proved that they were more than timely phenomena. And yes, you can't help but praise the technological achievement "Wall-E" represents, and how complex it must have been to create such a unique character. But whether one character (or two) makes a movie is another matter.
Indeed, I have nothing against slow-pacing but "Finding Nemo" took you right into the relationship between Marlin and his son through a powerful five-minute opening sequence, "Wall-E" demands more patience and I'm fine with that but the more you wait, the more emotionally rewarding you expect the outcome to be. Well, "Wall-E" starts as a cute character and ends having a cute relationship; it's not exactly the most fascinating character's arc of Disney history. That's all right because there's a genuine likability in this character but he's too one-dimensional to carry an eighty-minute film, that's how I felt at least.
I guess I had the same reaction than with the movie "Up" (I saw both movies twice to make sure it wasn't just something I'd miss at first viewing). I liked the film, I can see why some moments garnered such universal critical acclaim, with "Wall-E", Pixar studios made quite a creation, cute as a button, with his mechanical 'body' language, the way he moves his binocular eyes, whizzes the name 'Eve' (that 'Eeee-vah' turned me on for some reason) and use his shovel arms, he manages to be both RD-D2 and Charlie Chaplin. And through Wall-E, Pixar have achieved something remarkable, another remarkable stunt, making a silent romance, made only of squeaking, buzzing and rolling and various object sounds.
They also made an environmentalist movie with a prophetic message about the future that awaits our Planet, Wall-E being the only robot to have developed sentience (thanks Wikipedia, I just learned a new word) and is capable to have feelings and reactions to his environment. Of course, you got to wonder how his feeling capability made him immortal and how he's supposed to be a 'he', do machines have gender or what? But these are the kind of contrivances we accept in the name of suspension of disbelief. The level of realism reached in the first act, believe it or not, makes the whole thing plausible. Because I would be believe Earth would end up like a human-less gigantic dump. Where the animals are is another question the film doesn't answer but there's a nice little character named Hal the cockroach who provides company to Wall-E, until Eve arrives and then the story takes off (for some reason, Hal doesn't seem to care about meeting a female cockroach, or is he the 'Omega' cockroach as well?)
But I'm digressing here, let's get back to the "Up" parallel. The sci-fi sequence felt like the zeppelin part in "Up", it came at a time where the movie needed an antagonist to advance the plot, and while there's nothing much to criticize about the part; it doesn't hit the same sensitive chord than the first act. What is the most memorable part in "Up"? Yes, the romantic montage. So it's like "Up" and "Wall-E" are great concept movies, but it's like they rely on that simple principle defined by Howard Hawks (it's been a while since I didn't quote him) which is that a good movie if made of three good scenes and no bad scenes. If you stretch the notion of scene to sequences, you have a winner in "Wall-E", the encounter with Eve, the kiss in space and any other scene involving the humans. But that there aren't many bad scenes doesn't mean there's something to enjoy apart from the three memorable moments.
This takes me to the initial point: does the character make the film? Is "Wall-E" so cute and adorable that we need to follow him for almost twenty minutes, it dragged on for so long that even when EVE came, I wasn't really enthusiastic, I was more like "God, we had the Wall-E alone, we'll have the Wall-E trying to make up with her". Maybe I expected too much but I had just watched "Finding Nemo" again and the film proved that you can mix up heart with action with great visuals without trying to pull a "2001" and make something mature, especially when the film ends with the cartoonish representation of obese humans living in a star-liner. I liked that twist but I was wondering if the characters really belonged to the same movies, the paradox of "Wall-E" is that the robots are given more realism, depth and substance than the humans.
So I'm wondering if "Wall-E" wasn't actually a short film material, and the whole plot with the vessel and the mission could have been used for another movie. Maybe not but then I can't really say I enjoyed every bit, not as I would expect from such a universally praised film. Just because it deals with environmentalist issues and sends a powerful message about the way we treat Earth doesn't make it superior to any Miyazaki movie for that matter. Yes, I admire the feat of the creation of "Wall-E", but I don't think he was able to carry the film with his frail shovel hands.
And believe me, it's not that I didn't care, when the film ended, I put on the DVD bonus features and the part with the sound recording and sound design had me literally glued to the screen, it's very telling when you enjoy the making of the film, more than the film itself.