Stanton defies convention with animated film


Release date: June 27

“Out there, there’s a world outside of Yonkers,” goes the “Hello, Dolly!” number that plays over the opening images of “Wall-E” — a sentiment that encapsulates the hopes and dreams of the last little trash-compacting robot on Earth while echoing another famous Pixar motto as well: “To infinity and beyond!”

In a sense, Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase remains the motivation of every leading Pixar character and director since: to reject the arbitrary boundaries of their world and achieve something different, unique. Could it be a matter of time before the Acad follows suit and starts recognizing Pixar achievements in categories beyond animation?

A picture nom would be the ultimate prize, though “Wall-E” has to contend with the perception that animation is somehow beneath live-action filmmaking. And yet, in practice, toons are far more painstaking to make and ultimately do a better job of reflecting the director’s vision than traditional movies.

For “Wall-E,” director Andrew Stanton called upon live-action consultants such as d.p. Roger Deakins (to replicate the effects of specific real-world camera lenses within Pixar’s rendering software) and the sound effects guru behind R2-D2, Ben Burtt (to help create the characters’ voices and the aural ambiance of their environments).

But it’s the story, not the sheer volume of effort needed to bring it to the screen, that matters to the Academy, and here, too, Stanton pushed the envelope. Using Walter Hill’s treatment for “Alien” as his model, Stanton rejected standard formatting, evoking action and visuals via a sequence of short descriptive phrases.

Because the robots communicate through pantomime instead of conventional dialogue, Stanton included their unspoken sentiments as a guide for Burtt and the animators, who translated those feelings into sound and gesture.

Did Stanton’s “out there” approach work? “Wall-E” has connected with audiences around the globe, earning nearly half a billion dollars so far.

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