Wall-E is generally referred to as a children’s film, and I’m not going to argue: it’s an excellent children’s film—a classic, absolutely. I also happen to think that it’s an even better movie for adults, for whom its lessons are more poignant, possibly more resonant, and more necessary. Pixar has a knack for producing films which consistently operate on two different levels: one which speaks to a young audience without condescension or pandering, and one which reflects adult experience, rather than just exploiting nostalgia for idealized conceptions of childhood or simply spiking the cinematic punch with snarky, Grown-Ups Only pop culture references and in-jokes.
Movies like Wall-E and Up deftly evoke complicated emotional responses in adults in a way that most children’s films don’t, speaking to adults on their own level through smart, subtle storytelling that’s often amazingly, heartbreakingly simple. Consider the opening sequence of Up, for example, which has the power to make grown men break down and sob as if they’ve just been kicked in the heart, but doesn’t seem particularly traumatic for small children at the same time; it’s not that kids don’t “get it”—they just don’t necessarily react to the sequence in the same way that adults, carrying a little more emotional baggage into the theater, tend to respond.
[Below the fold: Charlie Chaplin, Hello, Dolly! and the making of an animated manifesto]