HOUSTON — The clever minds at Pixar have used high-tech computer animation and old-fashioned storytelling to explore the hidden worlds of children's toys, undersea families and gourmet rats.
The animation studio's ninth feature film, "Wall-E,” offers a cinematic journey to the final frontier.
"The biggest influence was sci-fi movies that I saw in the '70s ... particularly the iconic ones like ‘2001,' ‘Star Wars,' ‘Close Encounters (of the Third Kind),' ‘Alien' and ‘Blade Runner.' They all did such an amazing job of transporting to these other worlds, and I just really believed they were there,” said "Wall-E” writer-director Andrew Stanton in a recent one-on-one interview at the Four Seasons Hotel.
"Some of that may have been my age, but I also think that somehow the whole majesty and wonder of that kind of fell away. ... I just haven't felt that way again, and I just wanted to kind of go back there. And I guess I realized that sci-fi is not something that you've seen that often in animation.”
"Wall-E” features the kind of hero rarely seen in modern cinema: A quirky, clunky robot cleaning up Earth after humans left it covered in trash 700 years before. While all the other Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class robots have broken down, Wall-E keeps doing his job, though not before sifting a few interesting treasures out of the rubble.
His lonely existence is disrupted when a sleek probe named Eve (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) lands on the abandoned planet. She and Wall-E form a bond, and Eve learns that Wall-E has found the one sign that people might some day return to Earth.
When Eve's mission takes her back into space, where humans live on a luxury space liner, Wall-E comes along for the adventure.
The idea for "Wall-E” came out of a now-famous 1994 lunch during which Pixar pioneers Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Doctor and the late Joe Ranft also kicked around the ideas for "A Bug's Life,” "Monsters Inc.” and Stanton's previous directorial effort, "Finding Nemo.”
While working on his Oscar-winning fish tale, Stanton also began building the story for his "Robinson Crusoe” robot.
"I didn't want you to see him as a person; I didn't want what I called the ‘Tin Man effect' where it's like the ‘Wizard of Oz' and he's just a metal human being,” he said.
The former animator sent the film's artists out to take pictures of different machines and develop personalities for them.
Stanton, 42, also decided his non-humanoid robots would only speak in whistles, beeps and other electronic sounds.
"I kept recalling that moment in ‘Star Wars' where R2 was alone with the Jawas, and there was no English; it was all different languages, but you completely understood everything that was going on,” said Stanton, whose next project will be the film version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' book "John Carter of Mars.