Mr. Oscar, Tear Down This Wall! Andrew Stanton on How Animated Films are Pigeonholed -- and How Wall-E is Every Man

We talked to 'Wall-E' director Andrew Stanton last week about his film and the increasing blurring of the line between animation and live-action movies -- plus, what makes the gun-wielding probe EVE a sleek, feminine mynx in WALL-E's eyes.  Excerpts:

You talked about 'breaking the glass ceiling' in your speech after winning Best Picture from the L.A. Film Critic's Association.

Well, when we were starting out on "Toy Story," we just felt like animation was in such a box. You gotta remember that back then, everybody felt that, in the industry and outside it, if it was animated, that meant it had to be a musical, that meant it had to be typically some sort of fairytale, had to have some happy village in it and some villain and there were just all these unnecessary conventions put on it. And I would see my favorite reviewers of movies suddenly dumb down and say, "Good for kids," and that would be the review. It just frustrated the heck out of me and everybody else. So we felt, well, we're just going to have build a better movie prove that that isn't the case.

So "Wall-E" was born.

What people say we've been doing with "Wall-E," we've been doing since the beginning. But I guess the grooves are so deep in people's thinking that it took a film that pretty much didn't follow any convention for people to just finally get it. In a weird way, I don't feel like our philosophy or our tack on our filmmaking is any different on this one than it has been on the others.

What does it take to smooth over those grooves, to break down the barrier? Winning awards?

Wearing people down with good films. And to even think that it's segregating other artists -- pick a branch, but I know everybody always associates it with actors -- you know, yeah, agreed, we're not going to hire as many actors, but we're always going to be hiring actors. You can't replicate great acting. So I just don't get the fear.

The animated category was initially supposed to empower animated films
-- does it now serve to ghettoize them?

It's just a sign that times have changed. Because from the live action side, animation -- and computers in general -- are being used as a tool in so many movies now. The line is just getting so blurry that I think with each proceeding year, it's going to be tougher and tougher to say what's an animated movie and what's not an animated movie. And what I'd love is to get to the point where someone just goes, 'I don't care.' Because I've been at the 'I don't care' point a long time now.

Are you okay with not breaking the glass ceiling at the Oscars?

I've never seen so much buzz about anything we've done like this. All the reviews that have been amazing. And I'll be okay if it doesn't break another glass ceiling. I already get how people feel. That's really, really satisfying.

People say, if not this movie in the Best Picture category, then no movie.


It kills me to hear that. Because I've been such a reverent fan of movies since I was a little kid, and I think I'm lucky that I work in San Francisco so I feel like I still am almost more of a fan than an actual filmmaker, and I just have always wanted to believe, no matter how naïve it is, that the best films will make it to the attention of the Academy in their proper place. And I still want to believe that.

Eve has gotten some blog buzz as the one of the best-written female characters of the year. Since she goes around blowing things up, what feminizes her?


I'm probably going to offend you, but I was just trying to sort of emotionally and temperamentally capture what I've always seen a male-female relationship to be. At least out of my experience -- and I'm a nerd. I've always been shocked and waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop that a girl would ever talk to me, let alone want to marry me. They always seem to hold the power to me, and from my mother to my wife to my daughter, every time I try to really figure them out, and think I've got them pegged, I pay for it. There's a mercurial nature, but more of a mysterious nature to women that I think is what makes them so attractive. And I think that that's what I love: Guys never seem to know when they've come too close and crossed the line, and then the temper comes.

AKA, then Eve guns something down.

Exactly. That's really what the gun was all about, was Wall-E having no clue where the boundaries were with a woman. Because men don't either. Men just stumble into it and find out through experience. And they either survive it, or they don't. And that's really all it was, was a metaphor for that. The fact that she was high-technology and she had a subcutaneous technology that you couldn't really see, I felt, one, made her just technologically more beautiful and stuff, because wanted her to be pretty in a way that another robot would possibly see another machine being pretty, not pretty in the way that humans see somebody. But [her façade] also just kept her a mystery. There's something about her -- the fact that she floats. That fact that he touches the ground and he's all dirty, and she can stay clean. Some of these are kind of conventional thinking for the gender, but they just worked -- they worked on a primal level.

Usually we see familial or buddy love with Pixar -- this is the first really romantic relationship we've seen.

It's the most direct for romance, and it's also the only movie we've done where that was the story -- where it was a love story. Because all the stuff with the environment, all the stuff with the state of humanity -- that was all secondary and or sometimes even tertiary to what I just wanted to indulge in. I just wanted to see two machines fall in love, but I had to have a reason. I had to have a point to it all. I wanted to wallow in that innocent wonder and joy that you could get out of a love story in a '50s musical, but I felt there's no way the world would accept that in today's society. Unless you disguise it in a dystopian, sci-fi love story with two machines. Then, suddenly everybody's willing to take down their shields and just indulge. And maybe realize how much they miss being fulfilled that way -- with unadulterated joy.

Do you ever feel like those meta-narratives about Wall-E's message are in any way imposed?

I try very hard to have them not be. The biggest reason I ever put a plant in -- this is before I knew where the film was going, because it kind of came to me forward instead of as the whole idea -- was that I remember feeling [that] this was the loneliest character I'd ever thought of, working for 700 years for no reason.  And I thought, wow, what tenacity that is. And then it made me think of those flowers that just push through the pavement, that they're not going to give up -- even though all this manmade stuff [has] just mowed over it. And I thought, 'That's him!' So the whole idea that there was a green initiative was really never on my mind -- it was more just logic. It was just a logical consequence of people forgetting to love one another -- that everything else would slowly erode and fall apart and die because of it. It wasn't going to be some instant calamity -- as a matter of fact, I never even thought of global warming during the whole making of it.

What about Wall-E: The Sequel -- do you go there?

I don't think you do. I mean, frankly, I'm not speaking as a representative of Disney or Pixar, I'm speaking as just myself as a filmmaker: I don't go into anything that often thinking about a sequel. It's a real different mindset. And I'm not anti-sequel, but I just feel like there are very few ideas that are meant to be continued. You have to divorce yourself from the success and the box office and the desire of the audience to see it again.

You do feel that sense of finality in the Van Gogh-storybook ending.

I also have this artistic pride. I don't want my grandson to go, "Grandpa, did you make 'Nemo 1' or '2'?" That would just kill me.