Oh, those geeks and their wonderful ways of storing minuscule tidbits of information and pulling them from their mental storage unit to spur on debates. What must it be like to listen to a group of them talk about a movie they love? How about a movie they’ve all worked on? That’s exactly what Disney and Pixar did for WALL*E.
They’ve pulled four of the geekiest minds on the production crew, minds that would analyze every, minute detail of a film and test it for accuracy, and let them talk all over the film. And, like any good geek conversation, the pop cultural references come with each, nerdy breath. So, without any further ado, it’s time to find out what this Geek Squad has to say about WALL*E.
commentators: Bill Wise (character supervisor), Lindsey Collins (co-producer), Derek Thompson (story artist), Angus MacLane (production and storyboard artist, voice of BURN-E)
- The track opens with a silhouette of the commentary crew sitting down to WALL*E in a theater, a la “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” The image pushes in so the movie fills the screen before it starts, but couch they’re sitting on pops up now and again. To be perfectly honest, this helps tremendously keeping the voices separate from each other.
- The name of the film changed halfway through production. It was originally called WAL*E, but, according to Collins, they were worried people would pronounce the film “whale”, and everyone knows Fox Animation has dibs on the whale movies.
- The production named WALL*E’s cockroach friend Hal after Hal Roach, producer on many of the Our Gang or Little Rascals shorts of the 1930s. Thompson mentions the name could work on a 2001 level, as well. “It was a double nerd reference, which is important for any of our jokes,” says MacLane.
- The dystopian/utopian debate begins early with Thompson defining them each for everyone. He describes a dystopia as a “bleak vision of the future” and a utopia as an “optimistic vision of the future,” and the best sci-fi stories have elements of both. WALL*E has elements of both, so of course he’s gonna say that.
- Hello Dolly was always the choice for what movie WALL*E is obsessed with. Collins also notes they backed themselves into a corner when they decided to show the film, since it’s live action in an animated film. The scenes with Hello Dolly are the reason humans – pre-spineless blob humans, anyway – are live action in WALL*E. The team also debates whether Hello Dolly has two or three good songs. You be the judges, all you Hello Dolly-holics out there.
- According to Thompson, even though cockroaches could survive a nuclear blast, they wouldn’t survive long after humans died out or left the planet, since they mostly feed on the waste humans leave. “I wasn’t aware we would have to prepare for this,” says MacLane.
- 9:09 – MacLane says Star Wars when he meant to say Star Trek. The others don’t reject his geek card right out, but there may have been a tribunal after they were done recording.
- It’s not long after the previous item that Collins admits she doesn’t know what Adamantium is, so she may have been turning her card in, too.
- In an earlier version of the film, the ship that lands on Earth is being piloted by a gelatinous race of aliens who send Eve out to explore the planet. The idea for these aliens eventually evolved into the humans the film depicts now.
- It’s not spelled out for us in the film, but MacLane explains that EVE’s power source is what turns the electromagnet on that grabs a hold of her, sincere there’s no power on the planet.
- Of course, the above item is one, valid argument for one, potential gap in logic. The whole team spends much of the commentary pointing out inaccuracies in the science of the film, whether its regarding the robots, physics, or just basic logistics. There’s a small side road on the commentary where the group works to figure out whether or not WALL*E could have built all of those towers in 800 years. Spoiler alert, there were other WALL*Es that broke down, so the answer is “Yes.”
- Thompson points out a single piece of metal that flies by WALL*E when EVE is blowing up the ship. The piece of metal is a direct reference to a similar piece of metal seen in Aliens when the shuttle crashes and explodes. Would you like to know more?
- According to Thompson, one of the languages Ben Burtt has EVE speak is Huttese. MacLane proceeds to speak some Huttese for rest of the crew, which impresses Collins to no end. “I’m horrified,” she says at one point.
- Wise questions whether or not WALL*E has a soul and what part that soul resides in, since the robot can switch out his parts one right after the other. Thompson says the soul could be in WALL*E’s chest, but there’s not definitive answers given. We’ll probably have to watch Prometheus 2 to get those answers.
- MacLane notes how patient of a gamer WALL*E is that he would rack up 8000 points on Pong. “He’s been stacking track for 800 years,” Collins points out. MacLane jokes that Tetris would “blow his mind.”
- We all love the joke where Hal the cockroach sits and waits for WALL*E until the very end of the movie, but Thompson points out this is also a reference to a famous, Japanese story of a dog who waited for its master for nine years. It’s a heartwarming tale. Probably pretty boring, but heartwarming nonetheless. MacLane asks him if the story ends with the dog getting distracted and chasing a red laser point.. “No, he probably just died,” says Thompson.
- The animation team originally wanted the Slave I mixed in with the satellites the ship blasts through. Thompson asks Collins if she knows what the Slave I is. She doesn’t. They’re just digging in at this point.
- Humanity as shown in WALL*E is, as Thompson describes, like a big, Vegas cruise ship. In fact, he went on a friend’s wedding cruise during the making of the film to take mental notes. “It’s a weird, captive audience, Vegas, floating thing. It’s really hard to describe,” he says. He does mention he was unable to write the trip off.
- Wise points out a soft focus shot of EVE referring to it as being shot through a Star Trek lens. “Not everything comes from Star Trek,” says Collins. “I don’t think the Vaseline lens comes from Star Trek.” Wise and MacLane argue that that’s where they first saw it.
- MacLane points out AUTO’s scar, the etch in the robots surface it has across the top. None of the other commentators ever saw it as a scar, but MacLane mentions all great villains have a scar over their eye. “It’s a classic, bad guy thing,” says Wise. “He’s been through it. This robot has seen it all.” Thompson does joke about a dropped idea for AUTO to have a telescopic mustache that it could twirl. We hope he’s kidding. We hope.
- 53:10 – Thompson admits to not knowing the answer to a geek question Wise has asked him. “I’ve been disappointed by both of you at least a few times on this,” says Collins.
- The team points out the only two, slow motion shots in WALL*E, which spirals into a debate on whether the lens flare effect is overused. “Lens flare is worth giving a nod to,” says Thompson. “Oh, because it doesn’t get enough attention?” asks Wise. This debate needs J.J. Abrams.
- “I think George still calls them laser swords,” says Thompson after the group discuss “geek terms” that were commonly mispronounced when they were younger. “Star Track” and “Life Savers” are a few mentioned.
- There was much debate during the production on whether or not a fire extinguisher would propel you through space. PIXAR brought real-life scientists in on it and everything. Some argued the lack of atmosphere would cause nothing to happen, while others said the pressure was actually contained in the extinguisher. “To solve the argument, we went to space and completely blew the budget,” jokes MacLane. Or maybe he’s not joking. It is Pixar, you know.
- The sound-in-space debate comes up with everyone agreeing that, though it’s not accurate, it’s become an inarguable element to all sci-fi films.
- “I like how safe it is that they put a speaker right next to the water that, if you touch it with water, it explodes,” says MacLane. “I, for one, don’t buy it at all.”
- MacLane is convinced every piece of technology in WALL*E is alive and conscious, particularly the elevator. He notes how he thinks the blue light is watching everything and how it’s the ringleader behind everything going on.
- “Every time I hear the autopilot talk, all I can think of is Stephen Hawking,” says Wise. Thompson points out there is no voice actor for AUTO. It was generated using a computer program. They do mention Stephen Hawking was in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode and talk about that for a bit.
- More debates! This time the group – Collins excluded again – argues about how the plant could survive even for a second in deep space. They all come to the agreement that EVE can generate some kind of air bubble and instantly latches onto the plant when WALL*E pulls it out of his chest. They never debate whether WALL*E is hermetically sealed or not, so all bets are off.
- An earlier idea for the WALL*As was for there to be three of them with one of them being fascinated by daytime television. There were also earlier drafts of scenes where they recognized WALL*E as a smaller version of themselves and befriended him. This sequence was animated but not used.
- According to MacLane, two animators got a copy of the Star Wars 3-D chess set C-3PO and Chewbacca play. “It’s boring as hell, but they committed to playing it,” he says.
- The name of the ape at the beginning of 2001 who first learns to use bones as weapons is named Moon-Watcher. That’s something learned for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it’s Bill Wise who tells us here. We’re counting it.
- There was a lot of debate near the end of the film when WALL*E and EVE are finally together again about whether Hal the cockroach should be crawling all over them in this emotional moment. MacLane does joke that, at the very least, he’s just a third wheel in this scene.
- Wise and MacLane joke that they’ve come up with a script idea for A Bug’s Life 2 when the closing shots of WALL*E are going by, the idea being that it would take place in the futuristic world. Thompson jokes someone had the idea to have Buzz and Woody from Toy Story wake up on WALL*E’s trash planet. Just the thought of Toy Story makes us cry.
Best in Commentary
“WALL*E has no sense of boundaries. That’s what makes him charming. And a stalker.” -Lindsey Collins
“Bobbleheads survive in the future. That’s nice to know.” – Angus MacLane
“She’s a magical Transformer.” -Derek Thompson about EVE
“I’m romantic about this warp effect.” -Bill Wise
“That is a ridiculous amount of knowledge on a ridiculous subject.” -Lindsey Collins, something she may as well say continuously through the commentary
There are two things this Geek Squad commentary track has to offer in abundance. The picking apart of logic in WALL*E and the dropping of sci-fi, cultural references. With all of the conversation about logic gaps in this film, you know right when they begin if you’re on board listening to them go back and forth about it or not. By the time they begin talking about AUTO’s depth perception, you’re either fully invested in the commentary or it’s all become white noise to you.
The references come up and get bandied about even faster than the logic gaps. References to TRON, Star Wars, Star Trek, “Brave New World,” Dr. Who, Planet of the Apes, Predator, Superman, Comic Con – Evidently Lindsey Collins only recently went to her first one, so YAY for her geek cred – Starlog Magazine, Soylent Green, The Omega Man, Battlestar Galactica, James Bond, and The Matrix. That’s just what was caught with one pass.
There’s no denying this inventive commentary track delivers exactly what it advertises, a group of geeks acting geeky about this movie they love and are proud of. The “geek off” over the closing credits and suggestions of the potential nerds WALL*E might inspire some day are fine ways to close, and this kind of commentary track would be fascinating to listen to for other, like-minded films. Another first from Pixar.