Disney provided this interview with writer-director Andrew Stanton (of “Finding Nemo“) about the ideas and experiences behind Wall?E:
QUESTION: What inspired you to make Wall?E?
ANDREW STANTON: It was a love letter to all the movies that really affected me in my formative movie going years…from 1968 to 1982…embracing sci fi movies but some of the love stories too. These ere films like 2001, Star Wars, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Alien, Blade Runner and Silent Running. It is an amalgamation of the effect it had on me to go into the theatre and be transported
by any of those.
QUESTION: What are the origins of the idea to the realization of a film that may come to be regarded as a masterpiece.
ANDREW STANTON: Well I never thought that, at the end, but it did have a long journey. It was this one sentence out of a lunch in 1994, we were in the middle of making Toy Story and we said simply ‘what if mankind left Earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off?’. The idea of something doing the same thing forever was, to me, the ultimate definition of futility. I just thought that was the saddest character I’d ever heard of, and we said it should speak in the manner that it was built, much like R2D2 did. And wouldn’t it be cool to see a whole movie with a character like that. For us as filmgoers, we thought that would be great, but we immediately said nobody would ever give us money to do something like that. We hadn’t even finished Toy Story, we hadn’t proved that we could make any movie so that where it sort of lived and died. It took for us to make, I think, five or six more movies for me to get more confident as a filmmaker and for the technology to improve. And so about seven years later I’m in the middle of Nemo and I find my brain drifting to this little lonely robot, wondering who he is, what the story should be, what it should be about. By then I knew a lot more and I realized it was the loneliness that appealed to me, and the opposite of loneliness is love, and so it should be a love story. And then the idea of a love story combined with the sci-fi genre, then I was just hooked. I found myself, even at my busiest schedules, hiding in my office, starting
to write this. That’s always a good sign; I was pretty much hooked after that. By then I had more confidence that the audience trusted Pixar that we could go a little more out on a limb, and people might follow us then.
QUESTION: Can you recall what was on the menu of the famous lunch when so many ideas were born for Pixar films?
ANDREW STANTON: Knowing me I probably had a cheeseburger and fries!
QUESTION: Apart from being great entertainment is WALL?E quite profound?
ANDREW STANTON: To be honest we try to do that to all the films. I was trying – through this little robot – to answer the question of what is the point of living. I did not have an environmental agenda or an obesity agenda…or any of those things. But I am not stupid; I saw that as the movie was finishing that in a very eerie, prophetic way it was matching the headline. But it was all more metaphorical. It was all about loving the idea of telling the point of living through two programmed machines and that got me thinking that humans can be more robotic than machines, depending on how they choose to live their life. So I ended up on a premise of irrational love defeats life’s programming. That it takes a random act of kindness and love – whether it is in a one on one relationship or on a global scale – to kick us out of our habits and routines that unconsciously keep us from connecting with one another. So everything else is just abstract or fictional devices used to support that premise.
QUESTION: Is it true that originally the idea was that there would be no English spoken in the film?
ANDREW STANTON: When I first started that is what I tried. Then I just went with when logic would dictate when we would have English. I understood that these robots might be programmed to deal with their
human masters, so there might be words that they have to say; there might also be times when you have to watch video from the past and hear stuff. But the one idea I backed off from was that humanity might have – in a Planet Of The Apes sense – evolved to something so different that their language had evolved and there was less reason to speak. But that became more of a chore and more of a burden on the audience’s attention. So I thought my vision of making human’s blobs of jello because of being so long in space was a more entertaining abstract way to go. Regarding the use of language – the beginning of the movie is such a great start with so much integrity that I would lose anything I had gained when I got to the spaceship. So about a year and a half in I had to rethink it. That was when I decided to make humans big babies. It is basically nature saying that you have no reason to grow up. Then I fell in love with the conceit that you
could play with the stage of going from infant to toddler to make a huge statement about humanity starting over again.
QUESTION: Was it difficult to get permission to use the clips from Hello Dolly?
ANDREW STANTON: I was worried that it would be. That idea was actually in the very first draft of the script – which shows how early I had the idea of using both songs. I immediately told the heads of Pixar to find out if we can get permission because using the Hello Dolly songs was so integral and I did not to go forward and
then have the rug pulled up from under me. Fortunately it was all a very amiable exchange.
QUESTION: You studied robots?
ANDREW STANTON: Yes, we had a couple of sniffer robots from the local police department and they were fascinating to watch. Part of the attraction tome of making a machine come to life was finding something that felt like it had a purpose first and then it evoked a character. I thought that was part of the genius of the John
Lassetter short film, Luxor Junior that he made before I came to Pixar – he found a lamp that already existed in the world and based on its own functional design it seems like a character from the minute it moves. He didn’t have to do anything to it. I thought that was much more successful and charming. My theory is that it is the same part of you that is compelled to be attracted to an infant or a pet…it is an appealing thing that is naturally there, designed the way that nature has designed it, but it can’t communicate fully. It can’t speak in a manner that can tell you exactly what it is thinking. But they are attractive and communicative enough that you almost can’t stop yourself from finishing the thought process…you think it is hungry or tired or that it likes you. I think you pull from your own emotional connections, your own emotional history; and that is pretty powerful stuff. I think that is why love at first sight works in any movie. You are remembering when it happened to you. So I thought…what if you could have a whole movie where the main character did that to you?
ANDREW STANTON: It is not one thing, it is the choreography of the right design, the right way of animating it, which was more about how little you moved it, less is more and the tiny cock of a head – like
a dog – speaks volumes, and the manner of how we told the film. It is really us at the top of our game of storytelling cinematically. I don’t think I would have made half the clever choices that I did if it had not been for the films that had been made earlier because we have been going to film school since Toy Story. We have become more educated and better at what we do. If we had made this film earlier we not have achieved it as well as we have.
QUESTION: Are you surprised at the things people read into the film after the event, the themes of capitalism, environmentalism and even obesity?
ANDREW STANTON: I knew all of those were hot button issues but I would do this with issues that are not making a story. I firmly believe that if you, as a storyteller, truly understand your premise, and come to all the elements that are going to be used in the story honestly, for a singular purpose, and then they’ll fit into place regardless of how political they might be. I’m the least political guy and the last thing I want is to be preached to when I see something, so all the things I used, I knew that they had parallel issues but I started on it so early that I couldn’t have guessed the headlines would be so prescient. But they were all there for the
larger issue of the love story which was to ask ‘what’s the purpose of living?’. When you say something like that it incorporates everything. I figured I wasn’t going to let fear take something out of the picture just because it happens to be matching hot button issues; I’m going to do what’s right for the movie. So I stuck to my guns and kept all these elements in. I have been accused of making certain statements and at the same time I’ve been accused of the opposite – so it’s almost more a reflection of the beholder than anything else. What I’ll stand behind is that I picked everything in order to reinforce the premise I had which is irrational love defeats life’s programming. That basically it takes a random act of love and kindness to get you out of your habits and your routines. And anything can be used for it, I happened to pick retail therapy for that, and electronics and literal technology, but you could put anything in there as things that are habits and routines that distract you from the real point of living, which is relationships and things. And that’s why I used everything. I initially started with a plant, not because I had an environmental slant even though
I’d ended up going there; it was because it was something real. I loved the idea that WALL•E was his man made machine that had something real inside him that had been lost on the rest of the world, and in the universe. I wanted him to meet something that was real also surrounded by man-made stuff, which was this organic plant. So I actually had that before I knew where I was going with it. The fact that it came from an honest place, I took comfort in.
QUESTION: What is it about your fascination with Hello Dolly!?
ANDREW STANTON: “I’m not saying I’m a Hello Dolly! fan, WALL•E has bad taste in musicals; I can’t do anything about that. I was in the show, I played Barnaby. But I must admit that there was a guy in high
school I grew up with, we made movies in our backyards together, he took me up on a hill and hit a hammer on a water tower wire to show me how some guy from Star Wars had made this laser gun sound. He and
I did theatre together, he played Cornelius and I played Barnaby, so I invited him to the premiere that we had in LA because I knew he would know the roots of this way better than anybody else in my life.
And he was weeping when this thing was over and the lights came up, just because there was so much connectivity to it all. I did my share of high school theatre, and Hello Dolly! is one of the many plays?
that I did.
QUESTION: Was there pressure to anthropomorphize WALL•E and EVE?
ANDREW STANTON: When I came up with this idea it was during the near- divorce years between Pixar and Disney, so there was nobody checking in. I was pretty much a free-range chicken, I was allowed to just
sort of go with what I wanted. And to be honest a lot of those design decisions I did in the year that you’re the most under the radar, the year right after you’ve just finished your picture as a director at Pixar. Pretty much they’re right onto the next film and worrying about what’s going to happen next, they expect you to go and take a vacation and slowly ponder what you might do next. I decided to jump in to developing this idea so there was literally nobody watch dogging me. So I got almost the entire first act up, the designs of the characters, all that stuff done in private. So those were all just pure artistic designs from me, about both of them.
QUESTION: Does Michael Crawford know that thanks to you he’s in the biggest movie of his career?
ANDREW STANTON: There’s been a lot of news of Jerry Herman, who wrote it. I don’t know if you read that article, everybody kept calling and aid he had to go and see this film, and apparently he was just moved to tears.
QUESTION: What is your favorite moment in the film?
ANDREW STANTON: You do try to make every single sequence as good as you can, but I can say the sequence that is special to me because it was the first one where I went ‘that’s what I’ve been trying to get
this whole time’. It’s a very small moment, but to me it’s one of the most powerful, it’s when she’s in the truck with him and she discovers what his lighter does. We catch him privately staring at her while she’s looking at the lighter. To me that was a kind of maturity in using the camera to tell so much emotion that I just felt
I always get that in great movies but I’ve never seen it in animation. I felt we’d finally tapped into it.
QUESTION: What might be on the DVD?
ANDREW STANTON: We created an in-house DVD department so we now routinely have almost everything documented as we go. And we do not dumb down the DVD documentaries. They are treated like an AFI special do you see us explain and talk about these things at the level that we talk about them day to day. I am very proud of them (the documentaries) – you will really get a huge scope of how much knowledge and talent goes into all these things.