I know I’m late talking about this, but I like to wait a couple of weeks before seeing a Pixar film (so all the little kiddies won’t bother me).
Okay, three points I’d like to make about Wall-E.
1) WORDLESS INFORMATION
As far as I’m concerned, the first 20 minutes of that film are worth the price of admission. It’s magnificent the way they created this story with very little dialogue. These guys at Pixar truly understand the language of film, too, the way you tell stories through images. Of course, the finished result always looks so deceptively easy. You better believe, though, that every shot and every moment was carefully conceived, discussed at length, and at times redone.
But consider all the information that’s told to us without words. What happened to Earth and why. The way they impressed upon you how Wall-E is truly alone on Earth. The point of Wall-E’s job. How people got off Earth. How they establish the cruise ship. Wall-E’s fascination with Earth. Wall-E’s inner needs, that is, his desire for companionship and love, human-style. This was especially true when he repeatedly reached out for Eve’s hand, which brings me to…
2) SETUPS & PAYOFFS
There is a simple motif throughout the film in which Wall-E continually tries to hold hands with Eve (or as he calls her – “Eeeevaa!”) This motif illustrates the point of great setups and payoffs, which is crucial in screenwriting. The setup: he wants to hold hands. The payoff: they hold hands. Simple, right? The holding of hands is a great choice for this story, because it visually and externally illustrates Wall-E’s inner needs about Eve. He wants to connect with her, like humans. Plus, we know that when the moment comes that they actually hold hands, they will have connected and Wall-E will be happy.
There are billions of setups and payoffs to choose from for stories. So, on the one hand, what you choose as a setup and payoff is important because it has to be essential to your story. On the other hand, what you choose as a setup and payoff isn’t enough. It’s how well you handle the setups and payoffs in your script that determines how effectively you’re communicating with your audience. One of the big unspoken aspects of screenwriting is that half the battle is mastering the fine art of setups and payoffs and making them work, which takes time, practice, and lots of feedback.
Sometimes I think amateur writers I’ve reviewed in the past tried to have too much in the way of setups and payoffs in order to impress people. It’s as if it’s beneath them to work in SIMPLE setups and payoffs. But, hey, that’s screenwriting. If you have too many setups and payoffs, they’ll just fly by the screen and won’t be effective. You need to stick with fewer setups and payoffs in order for them to be fully felt, which means you have to choose wisely and make them work. Less is more. What’s more impressive in this medium of films is how well you handle a few, simple setups and payoffs like Wall-E.
How did they do it?
* Wall-E repeatedly reaches out to hold Eve’s hand, which fails.
* Eve rejects him. She doesn’t understand what he wants.
* At a crucial moment, Eve is made to understand. She cares.
* She tries to hold hands with him, but it’s too late.
* Then, as they hold hands, Wall-E comes back to his old self.
* They finally connect, and it’s happily every after.
On paper (or mysterious blog article) that sounds too simple for a great film. But it’s not so much WHAT happens but HOW that happens and WHEN that happens that creates an emotional impact. He had to reach out for her hand at just the right moments to be effective. It’s like what Ebert says: “It’s not what it’s about but how it’s about it.”
I also wanted to talk about the colors of this film, but Jim Emerson beat me to it. I’m glad, too, because Jim pointed out a great interview with Wall-E director, Andrew Stanton, on Fresh Air in which he talked about a lot of the brainstorming that went into Wall-E:
"I geeked out at the idea of being able to do a much more monochromatic palette. That's not usually associated with animated pictures because there's this stigma of it being a babysitter or family fare and it has to have every color of the rainbow in it, and all that stuff -- which really makes me want to go in the other direction when I hear that. And I loved that just the natural setting [Earth as a big dump] required a monochromatic bent to it, at least in the beginning of the film. So it's dealing with a lots of yellows and tans and browns. It made anything primary, like even the chipped-away red circle of Wall-E's "E," or the one time you finally see something real like a plant, really stand out. It's almost like having the restraint of using a close-up and not using it until the very right moment. It suddenly has a huge impact when it's used.
Jim wrote, “How cool is that? An animator who understands the psychologically effective uses of color... and close-ups!” I would just add that the contrast of the monochromatic exterior of the Earth made the rich interior colors of Wall-E’s home feel that much more special, just as special as it must’ve felt for that little robot.