Selected filmography: Finding Nemo (2003), WALL-E (2008)
Writer/director Andrew Stanton took the Pixar formula and ran with it in 2003’s Finding Nemo before completely redefining it with 2008’s WALL-E, transporting us from the depths of the ocean to far above the clouds. Stanton’s exuberantly funny and exciting adventures explored new heights for animation whiling maintaining the strengths of classic cinema—his movies pay homage to Hitchcock and Kubrick among others.
Consider an image from Finding Nemo, where the young titular, fish-napped clownfish looks out into the skyline of Sydney, seeing his own reflection amidst the outdoors. He’s looking for freedom but a quick pan reveals Nemo trapped within a dentist’s fish tank. That’s just one example of how Stanton retains the visual storytelling of cinema’s past, while working within a groundbreaking new medium: CGI animation. Thus, Finding Nemo is littered with inventive visuals of light breaking through waves, ocean currents as highways, synchronized fish providing road maps and jellyfish as the prettiest sign of doom. But Nemo was just a primer to Stanton’s most daring achievements in WALL-E.
What other director can boast that he captivated audiences with a nearly wordless 30-minute opening featuring a robotic trash compactor and a fetching iPod-like drone? For that feat, Stanton drew from Chaplin, presenting mechanical characters, WALL-E and EVE, who communicated with their physicality—ironic since they are entirely digital creations. That such performances made us swoon is just testament to Stanton’s visual prowess, concocting romantic sights amidst heaps of garbage. The dreamy spacewalk sequence, where Wall-E and EVE dance amidst the stars, was just too easy for Stanton by comparison.
The director’s strength is in the minute details he loads into every stunning, painstakingly textured and tactile frame: the angles of light, rust, dust, haze, shadows and shimmers. His images are constantly revealing, where mountains and skyscrapers turn out to be trash heaps and a distant dust mite turns out to be our protagonist. Our attention is directed to such details with an imaginary camera, which pans, zooms and moves as if it were a physical presence, monitoring WALL-E and EVE’s romance from an unhinged distant perspective that might remind you of Antonioni. All this in a Pixar movie!
Kids may not have been persuaded by WALL-E’s darker tones and lyricism but that doesn’t take away from Stanton’s achievement. He made an adult-oriented film in what is sold as a kid’s medium, finding the art in animation and involving us so deeply that we forgot we were watching cartoons. —Rad Simonpillai