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Wall?E’s Favorite Movie: Hello Dolly

posted by Nell Minow

Wall∙E’s curiosity about the world and capacity to feel loneliness is part of what makes him such a vivid character in Pixar’s latest hit. And nothing in the film conveys those qualities more effectively than his affection for the 1969 movie musical Hello, Dolly! It may be quaint and stylized but it perfectly suits the storyline, especially the numbers we see Wall∙E watch, with the characters singing about taking chances, trying out new experiences, and falling in love.”Hello Dolly!” was not successful on its original release. It was the victim of poor timing. First, though it was filmed earlier, the release was delayed because by contract it could not be in theaters as long as the play was running on Broadway. Second, it was released in 1969, when audiences were caught up in the political and cultural turmoil of the 60’s, and it felt too big (it is over two hours long) and out of touch. There was also some hostility to the casting of the 20-something Barbra Striesand in the title role, a character who is supposed to be middle-aged, replacing the star of the play, Carol Channing. But today it is easy to be as charmed as Wall∙E is by this story of four different couples taking a chance on love and the character who encourages them all and then has to learn a few lessons herself. Here are his favorite numbers:And enjoy this clip of star Michael Crawford (later the title character in Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera”) explaining how he got the part.

  • jestrfyl

    We just watched Hello Dolly in our Wednesday Film Group. I explained why I chose it and how this movie might help the folks there to talk about Wall-e with their grandchildren. It is very much the image of the world as it should be, according to Walt Disney. Even the train from Manhattan to Yonkers looks like the train around the Magic Kingdom. In fact, it looks more like the Chicago Colombia Exposition of the same era, the Exposition that Disney’s father help build and from which much of the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street was designed.
    It provides a very curious image of human relationships – much of it seems firmly bound in the 1950’s and before. The women are conniving, the men are well meaning duffuses. That the bachelors in question are 19 and 28 3/4 years old makes the scenario seem a bit forced. Also, there is no mention made of religion, though the character names have clear ethnic origins – Vandergelder and Levi (It occurred to be that Vandergelder comes very close to the word gelding, which is what it seems Dolly is planning for Horace!)
    If nothing else, I hope Wall-e does not think that all mature humans sing like Walter Mathau! The choreography has that particular Gene Kelly style – though the male dancers do not come off as especially masculine. Ms Streisand was very good in the role (I’m not sure how well Ms Channing would have done in the film – larger-than-life version anyway). Michael Crawford seemed even less mature than his character’s 28 and 3/4 years, and his voice was not a full bodied as it is now.
    After seeing this movie I am all the more curious to see Wall-e. Seeing how the writers used this film to inspire a robot to find love will be a major hoot!

  • Nell Minow

    I grew up in Chicago and have always been fascinated by the stories and relics of the Columbian Exposition and I am also a very big Disney World fan — I had no idea of the Disney connection. Movies like “Summer Magic” and “Pollyanna” also have that idyllic Norman Rockwell sensibility.
    Yes, “Hello Dolly!” is a relic of sorts and I do not think anyone would consider it a guide for romantic relationships. The play has an unusual history. It began as an English one-act play in 1835 with the two young clerks as the main characters. Then it was expanded to full-length by an Austrian playwright. Almost 100 years later, Thornton Wilder (of “Our Town”) adapted it for an American audience as “The Merchant of Yonkers.” It flopped. Wilder rewrote it as “The Matchmaker,” making Dolly Levi the center of the story. It was a hit. A movie starring Shirley Booth (of “Hazel”), Anthony Perkins (of “Psycho”), Robert Morse (of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” who also appeared on Broadway) and Shirley MacLaine (of many lifetimes and “Terms of Endearment”) came out in 1958. And then it was adapted into a musical by Jerry Herman (of “Mame”) and became a worldwide phenomenon.

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