WALL·E (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Dec 03, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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WALL·E (4K UHD Review)

Director

Andrew Stanton

Release Date(s)

2008 (November 22, 2022)

Studio(s)

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures (The Criterion Collection)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A

WALL-E (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

On a far-future wasteland Earth long abandoned by humanity, a humble robot named WALL•E (Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-Class) toils each day away gathering garbage, compacting it into bricks, and stacking them into mountain-sized piles. It’s a thankless—one might argue pointless—job, but WALL•E doesn’t mind, as he and his best friend (a cockroach) find all kinds of interesting trinkets that humans left behind.

Their routine is disrupted, however, when a spacecraft lands and delivers a newcomer to WALL•E’s neighborhood, a sleek robotic probe named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) whom he soon befriends. Smitten, WALL•E takes EVE back to his shelter and shows off his collection, which includes a delicate sprouting plant. But he’s surprised when EVE suddenly takes the plant and deactivates, seemingly for good.

Disappointed, WALL•E resumes his work. But when the spacecraft returns for EVE, he climbs aboard to save her just as it blasts off and returns to its mothership, the space cruiser Axiom, which carries what’s left of humanity. It seems that EVE’s discovery means it’s time for them to recolonize the Earth, but humanity has grown so dependent on robots as to be helpless without them, and Axiom’s AUTO pilot has no intention of letting them go.

I must confess, the first time I saw Andrew Stanton’s WALL•E I didn’t fully appreciate it. Sure, it’s a Pixar animated film about robots, but something—perhaps the post-apocalyptic setting, the very notion of the entire Earth buried in garbage—was off-putting enough that I just wasn’t open to it. But I’m glad I gave it a second chance, because in 4K with HDR it’s a much more immersive and emotional experience. The first half of WALL•E is essentially a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin film. There’s virtually no dialogue apart from boops and beeps. Once EVE arrives, the simple charm watching of a pair of non-human characters getting to know one another, falling for each other, and simply emoting in a densely atmospheric environment is hard to resist. Unfortunately, some of that charm is lost once WALL•E and EVE arrive aboard the Axiom—there’s just too much going on, and the setting is more obviously unnatural. It’s not unlike the difference between watching the original unaltered Star Wars and, say, The Phantom Menace. There’s a beaten-up reality to the former, as opposed to the hyper-glossy artifice of the latter. The second half of WALL•E feels strangely less human, even though that’s where all the human characters are. This effect is heightened by the fact that while actual live-action humans appear on display screens throughout the film, the humans we eventually meet are essentially CG Weebles (that’s a 1970s toy reference for you younger readers).

Still, that atmospheric and viscerally-authentic first half is remarkable. Pixar’s animation team consulted no less than acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption) and ILM visual effects pioneer Dennis Muren to teach them how cameras, various lenses, film stock, and lighting combine to create the magic (and imperfections) of cinema in the real world, allowing them to better recreate that look within a digitally-animated environment. Combined with Stanton’s smart direction, evocative production design by Ralph Eggleston, the accomplished sound design of Ben Burtt, and an endearing but otherworldly score by Thomas Newman (not to mention a terrific closing track by Peter Gabriel), the resulting film is undeniably affecting, earning WALL•E the Oscar for Best Animated Film at the 2009 Academy Awards. Be sure to watch for a cameo by Fred Willard as the CEO of Buy N Large, and listen for the voice talents of Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, and Sigourney Weaver (as well as Burtt in the title role—the second major robot character he’s voiced after R2-D2).

WALL•E was originally rendered and finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 “scope” aspect ratio for its 2008 theatrical release. For its appearance on Ultra HD, Pixar has carefully upscaled the film from original animation files to create a 4K Digital Intermediate with grading for high dynamic range. Whereas the 2020 Disney 4K release offered HDR10 alone, Criterion’s new edition adds metadata for both Dolby Vision and HDR10+. But that appears to be the only significant difference between the two. Both 4K presentations are gorgeous, besting the 2008 Blu-ray by a good margin (unsurprising, given that UHD delivers more of the chroma resolution in the original master). Detail is remarkably clean, with lovely texturing—and this is a film that thrives in its subtle textures early on. Atmospherics are greatly enhanced by the wider gamut, which adds lovely nuance to the palette early and more intensely bold colors later on. The sensation of depth here is remarkable, with HDR deepening the shadows in the off-world scenes and adding a naturally glossy appearance to reflections on metal and plastic. Both Disney and Criterion appear to have encoded the film to fit on BD-66 discs, however, with similar file sizes and average data rates. So other than the addition of HDR10+ and Dolby Vision compatibility, choosing between the two is really splitting hairs. I’ve spent several hours now switching back and forth between them, and it’s my belief that the Dolby Vision presentation has marginally-enhanced dimensionality. But that aside, other than very subtle encoding differences (and minor/infrequent banding issues that are likely present in the source), its hard to discern much of a difference between the Criterion and Disney presentations short of freeze-framing and high magnification (which, of course, is not how any film is actually meant to be viewed). So if you’re expecting Criterion’s UHD to represent a dramatic image upgrade over the previous 4K, you’re likely to be disappointed. Nevertheless, you can console yourself with the knowledge that you’ll still enjoy a breathtaking visual experience.

Audio-wise, Criterion Ultra HD appears to contain the exact same Dolby Atmos mix as the 2020 4K release. And that’s fine, as the soundstage is appropriately grand and immersive. Newman’s score shines in this mix, critical given that it plays a central role in the storytelling. Fidelity is pleasing, with excellent clarity, and a rich total quality that definitely benefits the instrumentation. Directional cues and movement are abundant, smooth, and lively, rendering a constant sense of sonic space and atmosphere. Dialogue later in the film is clean and discernible. Overall dynamic range is satisfying, though—as is often the case with Disney’s Atmos mixes—the low end could be a little more beefy in a few places (the rocket launches, for example). Then again, this isn’t a war film; it’s a soundtrack that calls more for intricacy than bluster. But this disc also includes the previous English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, which—though lacking some of the nuance of the Atmos—does have a slightly more aggressive sound. (I suspect individual audio mix preference will vary.) An English 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital mix is also included, along with English Descriptive Audio. Optional subtitles are available in English only. (Note: the Blu-ray in this package includes the same audio and subtitle options.)

Criterion’s Ultra HD release is a three-disc set, with the film in 4K on UHD and 1080p HD on Blu-ray, along with an additional Blu-ray of special features. Here’s a disc-by-disc breakdown of what’s included:

DISC ONE (WALL•E – 4K UHD)

  • Audio Commentary with Andrew Stanton
  • Audio Commentary with Bill Wise, Lindsey Collins, Derek Thompson, and Angus MacLane

DISC TWO (WALL•E – BLU-RAY)

  • Audio Commentary with Andrew Stanton
  • Audio Commentary with Bill Wise, Lindsey Collins, Derek Thompson, and Angus MacLane
  • Where It Began: The Origins of WALL•E* (HD – 23:34)
  • Anatomy of a Scene: The Plant* (HD – 16:35)
  • A Visit to the Pixar Living Archive* (HD – 27:17)
  • The Pixar Story (HD – 88:31)
  • Trailer #1 (HD – 1:38)
  • Trailer #2 (HD – 2:31)
  • Trailer #3 (HD – 2:33)
  • Superbowl Trailer (HD – 1:02)

DISC THREE (SPECIAL FEATURES – BLU-RAY)

  • Process
    • RALPH•E: The Art of the Color Script* (HD – 11:23)
    • Directing Animation: Twelve Scenes* (HD – 18:50)
    • The Imperfect Lens (HD – 14:34)
    • Building Worlds from the Sound Up (HD – 18:43)
    • Trash Planet (HD – 4:23)
    • WALL•E’s Truck Tour (HD – 3:42)
    • WALL•E and EVE (HD – 7:02)
    • Captain’s Log: The Evolution of Humans (HD – 7:59)
    • Go Live (HD – 3:23)
    • Notes on a Score (HD – 10:42)
    • Life of a Shot (HD – 5:09)
    • Robo-Everything (HD – 5:46)
    • Deleted Scenes (HD – 4 scenes plus an intro – 23:06 in all)
    • Geek-o-Rama (HD – 4:48)
  • Prophecies
    • WALL•E: A to Z* (HD – 12:49)
    • BNL (HD – 5 segments – 8:49 in all)
      • Captaining the Axiom (HD – 1:57)
      • Operation Cleanup (HD – 1:47)
      • Meet the BNL Bots (HD – 1:27)
      • The History of Buy N Large** (HD – 1:04)
      • All About the Axiom** (HD – 2:28)
  • Robots
    • Meet the Bots (HD – 8:47)
    • WALL•E’s Treasures and Trinkets (HD – 4:55)
    • Lots of Bots Read-Along Storybook (HD – 3:08)
  • Short Films
    • A Story (HD – 6:48)
    • BURN•E (HD – available with and without storyboards – 7:35)

* Produced by Criterion
** Vintage material newly added for this release

Most of these extras are carried over from the 2008 Disney Blu-ray, though Criterion has created a few new features that are genuinely terrific. They’ve put together a piece on the origins of the film, as well as a fantastic look at the late Ralph Eggleston’s work on the film’s color script, which is essentially its light and color design bible. There’s a fly-on-the-wall look at Stanton “directing” various scenes in consultation with his team, and a lovely visit to the Pixar archive for the film. The Imperfect Lens and Building Worlds from the Sound Up are the best of the older extras, the former highlighting the influence of Deakins and Muren on the production and the latter focused on Burtt’s contributions to the soundtrack (with a nice look at the inventiveness of legendary Disney Foley artist Jimmy McDonald on the side). The commentaries are worth your time too, and there also appears to be a couple of additional BNL pieces here that weren’t available on the previous Blu-ray. Missing from that Blu-ray are the Presto animated short film (which is available elsewhere), the four Axiom Arcade interactive games, the Sneak Peek: WALL•E’s Tour of the Universe clip, and the ten brief 3D Set Fly-Throughs (though some of this footage does appear in the set’s other featurettes). Criterion’s release comes in a beautiful Digipak with a cardboard slipcase featuring production art from the film. There’s also a 40-page booklet that adds an essay by Sam Wasson, selections from Stanton’s sketchbooks, script notes, drawings, and other artwork.

Unfortunately, Criterion’s WALL•E Ultra HD does not signal the start of a bold new era of collaboration between the company and Disney; this is simply a one-off release, initiated by the director himself. But while it isn’t an obvious upgrade from Disney’s existing 4K, the A/V quality here is still quite impressive, and Criterion’s package definitely improves upon the original Blu-ray edition. So if you haven’t yet made the leap to 4K with WALL•E, you should find much to be pleased with here. As for the rest of you, your mileage will vary.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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