7 Things You Never Knew About Pixar’s ‘WALL-E’
It's incredible to think that "WALL-E," Pixar's delightful robotic love story, is a whopping ten years old. (I guess that's what makes it a timeless classic.)
Released during what was arguably Pixar's most fruitful creative period, the movie represented a bold step forward, both in terms of storytelling (with its mostly silent comedy and emphasis on physical comedy and allegorical depth) and technology (wait, live-action characters in an animated film?) Sometimes it still feels like we're catching up to "WALL-E," a satire that never felt too bleak and a romance that never felt too saccharine.
And even if you've seen Andrew Stanton's masterpiece dozens of times (not that we have ... because that'd be weird, right?), chances are there are still some things that you might not know. So strap on your space suit and get ready to blast off for seven things you never knew about "WALL-E."
1. Pete Docter Came Up with the Original Concept
According to Pixar lore, Andrew Stanton came up with the original concept for "WALL-E" during the same (incredibly fruitful) brainstorming session that would ultimately give us "A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo." (This legendary lunch took place as the studio neared completion on "Toy Story.") This, however, is untrue.
The original pitch for "WALL-E" came from "Inside Out" director Pete Docter (recently named to head up Pixar following John Lasseter's departure at the end of 2018), who conceived of the project as being in the spirit of "National Lampoon's Vacation," with a bunch of aliens visiting a planet and being menaced by a tiny robot. Lasseter nixed the idea, but Stanton was intrigued with the story of the robot and figured that he could take it and make it his own. Docter agreed.
2. For a Long Time, It Was a Very Different Movie ...
During much of the development of "WALL-E," it was a very different movie. Most notable was the fact that instead of humans, the robots would encounter alien "Gels" -- gelatinous blobs that had their own language (borrowed from the IKEA catalogue) and their own culturally specific traditions. (Weirdly, they lived in a giant castle at the back of the Axiom.) Instead of "rebooting humanity," as WALL-E does in the finished film, he starts something of a "Spartacus"-style robot uprising (traces of this are still in the film).
Ultimately, this proved too cumbersome and complicated, especially when you factor in the fact that it once included a very big twist (more on that in a bit). There were also a couple of alternate titles that were floated -- "Trash Planet" was considered, as was "Out There" (a title that the marketing people loved, but the filmmakers were lukewarm on).
3. ... With a Big Twist
As if all this Gel stuff wasn't enough, at some point during the movie, in a bid to outdo "Planet of the Apes," it was revealed that the see-through, amorphous alien race was actually the remaining humans!
While this definitely would have been a twist, it also served to distance the audience from the story emotionally. It also added even more complications to a version of the story that felt overstuffed as-is. But, if you want to get a look at what some of these Gels looked like, please refer to 2006 Pixar short "Lifted," which features a jelly-like alien DMV instructor with clear skin ... just like the Gels in the original version of "WALL-E." No twist required.4. ILM Helped Out With the Live-Action Segments
Thanks to the use of "Hello Dolly!" footage in the film, the creative team behind "WALL-E" strove for realism. For the first time, the production set about to replicate actual lenses, with everything from 70mm photography to the shallow focus style of Gus Van Sant cited as influences -- they even brought in some heavyweights to make sure that it looked as good as it could.
Roger Deakins, the legendary cinematographer perhaps best known for his collaborations with the Coen Brothers, advised Pixar on the look and feel of the film, paying particularly close attention to lighting (and light sources) during the section of the movie set on Earth. (For the garish lighting of the Axiom, the team studied Las Vegas.) For the actual live action sections of the movie, which depicted the last of the human race (exemplified by Fred Willard's Buy N Large CEO Shelby Forthright), the production got some help from their bay area brothers -- Industrial Light & Magic. It was a reunion of sorts, since Pixar started out as the computer development arm of the company before being sold to Steve Jobs. Everything is cyclical!
5. The Biblical Overtones Are Real
Director Andrew Stanton is a devout Christian and, beyond the fact that EVE (which stands for Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is named after the biblical first woman. At one point during the production, the movie was changed when a staffer noted to Reardon that EVE resembled the white dove of peace. So the story was retooled to have her save humanity by discovering a sliver of vegetation, just like the dove with the olive branch!
After the film's release, there was extensive writing on the film's subtext by religious scholars, critics, and essayists, especially when it comes to the movie's embrace of spiritual truthfulness over commercial excess.
6. Critics Loved It
Sure, you remember "WALL-E" being well-received but it was positively beloved. When it was released, a number of leading critics, including Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, A.O. Scott of The New York Times, Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, and Richard Corliss of Time, named it the best film of 2008.
What's more, that love seems to have only grown, with Corliss and Scott naming "WALL-E" the best film of the decade. Unless it's something like "Inside Out" or a more independently minded movie that has rooted its way into the public consciousness, it's rare for a big budget animated feature to elicit that kind of response from the critical elite. But "WALL-E" was a classic on day one and it's still a classic now.7. There Was, for a While at Least, a Real WALL-E
One of the more frustrating aspects of "WALL-E" is that Walt Disney Imagineering -- the part of the company responsible for all of the theme parks, attractions, cruise ships, and restaurants -- actually designed a real WALL-E. It was as big as the robot would have been in real life and fully emotive. It was also, like the actual robot, incredibly heavy. (This next-generation walk-around character was part of a program at Walt Disney Imagineering called the Living Character Initiative.)
So, despite making a few appearances, including one at the 2009 D23 Expo (above), this true marvel is lost to time. Apparently WALL-E occasionally makes appearances during tours of the Walt Disney Imagineering campus in Glendale, California, but otherwise he's been lost to the sands of time. Sigh.