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In Space No One Can Hear You Clean - Andrew Stanton Interview

Author: Darryn King
Monday, 8 September 2008

The Pixar brains trust sat down to lunch 14 years ago and ended up with the compelling scenarios behind Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., A Bug’s Life and this year’s Wall-E. They knew right away, though, that Wall-E was going to be a very different kind of film. Darryn King spoke to Pixar writer-director Andrew Stanton.

Andrew Stanton was remarkably sure of his initial vision, even as far back as 1994. “We knew it should be like R2D2: The Movie,” he says. “It should be like [Pixar’s mascot, the mute lamp] Luxo… I thought, I’d love to watch a movie like that. But nobody would ever give us money to do something like that…”

This was just before the runaway success of Toy Story, of course, and no one could have anticipated the unbroken string of hits that has come out of Pixar’s San Francisco studios since. Andrew Stanton has been a huge driving force in these successes, having directed Finding Nemo, the highest-grossing Pixar title to date, co-directed A Bug’s Life, collaborated on the scripts for Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo and even lent his voice to several Pixar characters.

After Finding Nemo, Stanton finally had the confidence to try to answer the question he himself posed at that lunch in 1994: ‘What if everybody left Earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off-’ The result is Wall-E, part-sci-fi flick, part-love story, owing as much to the ’70s golden age of science fiction as it does to the silent comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

Pixar has always thrived on risk-taking and the thrill of discovery – it was part of the ethos that gave us the first ever CGI-animated feature, Toy Story, in the first place – but Stanton admits that he had to venture further outside his comfort zone for Wall-E. There is next to no dialogue for the first 40 minutes, and neither of the film’s robot protagonists ‘speak’ in a conventional sense. “We knew we were making a flavour that hadn’t been tasted before. We didn’t know what we had, so we were always in a state of nervousness.”

Still, Stanton and his team never wavered in their faith in the project and, halfway through making the film, they received unusual reassurance that they were on the right track. Courtney, a young American girl, posted a YouTube video of herself being driven to tears by the adorableness of the titular character’s antics in an early trailer. The video became a hit and eventually made its way to the Pixar offices. “What blew us away was that she would see this trailer that had two or three shots of him and she would burst into tears – we just kinda went, wow, I guess we did tap into something powerful.”

For Stanton, the effect the eponymous Wall-E had on Courtney confirmed a long-standing suspicion of his. “I’ve always felt that Luxo Jr. has an extra power to it, just because of some weird voodoo of exactly how it’s designed. It doesn’t speak like you and I, so you’re forced to invest in it a little more and have an extra affinity for it. You see it as an appliance first and a character second.”

There’s more to the charming protagonist than clever character design however. Wall-E is going about his business some 700 years after the human race has abandoned the planet. In this way, the rubbish-compacting robot carries on a rich tradition of Disney orphans: he is the ultimate orphan. This is, in fact, the crux of the idea that Stanton thought up over 14 years ago – and it was staying true to this initial vision that has critics everywhere hailing Wall-E as a masterpiece.

“If you saw him on the street, you’d still be charmed, but not to the extent you are in the movie because you know the context. I think it’s the strongest foundation I could ever think of: a robot doing the same thing for centuries, not knowing it’s a waste of time. That’s pretty powerful, that’s the loneliest, saddest situation I could ever think of for a fictional character.”

Wall-E opens in cinemas Thursday 18 September.

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