Thank goodness it is possible to hear many archived radio programs online. There is no way I would be able to listen to any of my favorite programs if I had to catch them strictly at broadcast time. Today I am particularly thankful for the ability to time-shift the NPR show Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross. Today she interviewed Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of Wall-E, the latest from the extraordinary creative team at Pixar. I was particularly interested in hearing what Mr. Stanton had to say because we had just seen the movie and I had not only been entertained but amazed at its heart and soul. To me it represents the art of film in one of the purest forms we have seen since the best work of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd. And let us face it, to do something like Wall-E takes not just talent, but strength of character. This film does not bow to Conventional Wisdom as it applies to animated films. It tells a story and does it beautifully and on its own terms.
Anyway, back to the radio interview. What Andrew Stanton the Writer had to say about a couple of things particularly caught my attention. When Terry Gross quoted a couple of reviewers, one who applauded the movie as a timely parable and warning for our age and another who saw it as a tedious hour and a half diatribe on behalf of the treehugger contingent, Andrew Stanton simply said that his intention was to Tell a Story and his inspiration had not been a political or social agenda, but a Character. The last robot left on Earth. That is what he started with. A Character. It took months, much collaboration and a fair amount of serendipitous good fortune (which in my opinion happens much more frequently when open and refreshingly childlike minds are involved) in order to shape this character of Wall-E. And then it took more creative energy to form the story. But the story would not have happened without the character. That is why the film works: we care about Wall-E. Yes, the Earth has been turned into a refuse pile but the Earth is not our protagonist. Wall-E is. The story is about him. Those who can't see this are, well, either dense or can't get past the brick walls of their own agendas.
The other thing that captured me in the interview was the discussion about the repeated use of a segment from the movie Hello Dolly. As the film opens, the first thing we hear is Michael Crawford singing the joyous, upbeat, optimistic song "Put on Your Sunday Shoes". I have mentioned more than once in this blog and elsewhere that the world would be a better place if we had more musical theater about us and I must say it is gratifying to know that Andrew Stanton seems to agree with me. An undeniable factor in making Wall-E the sweet, romantic soul he has become is, in my mind, his exposure to "Put on Your Sunday Shoes" and the "It Only Takes a Moment", the other song from Hello Dolly featured in Wall-E. When Terry Gross asked Andrew Stanton about using "Put on Your Sunday Shoes" he said that he knew he wanted an old fashioned song for the opening, something very upbeat and life-affirming. He listened to many songs before trying a tune from a show he himself had been in back in his high school days. The opening lyric "Out there" told him he was on the right track and the last line "And we won't come home until we've kissed a girl!" had to have been the clincher. What more do most of us want than to See What's Out There and Find True Love? And there is no better way of conveying those needs, those desires, than through song.
There are those folks who will tell you they found the movie to be tedious or silly or boring. Others will tell you they don't like the alarmist environmental message it supposedly sends. These people may be lovely folks with lots of redeeming qualities, but the fact here is that in one case they have allowed themselves to be dumbed down by the entertainment industry and in the other they just don't get it.
Thank you, Pixar and particularly Andrew Stanton. You are proof that Good Stuff can find the light of day. Oh, and thank you for the almost non-stop laughs to be found in the short film about the magician and his hungry bunny. Genius.
Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.