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June 27, 2008

What Makes a Summer Movie Great

Wall_e I love big, dumb blockbusters and superhero movies as much as the next guy, but if I could only make one visit to the theater this summer, there's no question that I would choose to see a love story. About a robot.

That movie opens today, and because Pixar's name is on the credits, there is little doubt that WALL•E will be a thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining two hours. It is the tale of the last robot on Earth, a garbage collector left behind when humanity abandoned the planet 700 years ago. The little guy is frightfully lonely until a scouting robot called "EVE" comes down from space to see if Earth is habitable. If that strikes you as utterly ridiculous, then you probably don't appreciate talking toys either -- or bugs, or monsters, or cars.

And the director, Andrew Stanton, even found ways to weave Christian principles into this unique story. Both Christianity Today and WORLD Magazine have interviews this week where he offers insights into the creation of WALL•E. I especially appreciated this part:

WORLD: How does WALL•E represent your singular vision?

STANTON: Well, what really interested me was the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love, but that's not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that could demonstrate what I was trying to say—that irrational love defeats the world's programming. You've got these two robots that are trying to go above their basest directives, literally their programming, to experience love.

With the human characters I wanted to show that our programming is the routines and habits that distract us to the point that we're not really making connections to the people next to us. We're not engaging in relationships, which are the point of living—relationship with God and relationship with other people.

It's these kind of subtle but powerful messages that make Pixar movies so reliable -- they defy what Hollywood has become and rely on the truth and common sense, clean but witty humor, and the power of love. Among robots, toys, rats -- or people.

(Image © Disney/Pixar)

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I don't yet know enough about literary and film criticism, but I've noticed that really good movies have a common theme: a struggle to return to the Garden of Eden. In movies targeted toward men, often this is a literal, physical struggle and/or journey; in movies targeted toward women, it's a desire to return to the relationships Adam and Eve had with each other and God before the Fall. I'll be curious to see if WALL•E has that theme, as it appears it does.

Pixar has definitely learned what other studios have not: world-class animation only gets you entrance to people's eyes. It's world-class storytelling that gets you into their minds and hearts.

And I can't quote him off the top of my head, but I'm fairly certain C.S. Lewis said there was only one really great Story - but a huge number of individual experiences of it.

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