Andrew Stanton on the Legacy of ‘Wall-E’ and Joining the Criterion Collection

The purpose of the Criterion Collection is to restore and distribute classic and contemporary films. In essence, it preserves films of cultural impact and importance. And while cinephiles can find an assortment of gems, there is almost no animation titles in its collection. That is until they announced that Wall•E would be a part of their November 2022 release slate.

One of Pixar’s all-time greatest, Wall•E was ahead of its time as the high-water mark of digital animation and a prescient vision of a dystopian future is packaged within a dazzling pop-science-fiction love story, making for an urgent fable for our troubled millennium. Transporting us simultaneously back to cinema’s silent origins and light-years into the future, Wall•E is a soaring ode to the power of love and art to heal a dying world.

To help promote Wall•E joining the Criterion Collection, The Nerds of Color had a chance to talk to Academy Award-winning director Andrew Stanton about the impact of the animated film, its themes, its bonus features, and remembering the late production designer Ralph Eggleston.

NOC: Wall•E is such a love letter to the golden age of cinema, not only in how Wally watches Hello, Dolly, but how it feels like it was filmed. I was always wondering, was that your intent to shoot and present the film in that kind of a way?

Andrew Stanton: You know, the funny part of the fun of going into a new movie each time is you have a feeling, you have a hunch, you have an instinct, but it hasn’t become hasn’t fully formed yet. So part of the fun and studying is to get other artists involved and other people to talk to. And just by having dialogue and illustrating things and, and having long discussions of looking at other films and stuff, you start to get a clearer picture.

And I realized there was a tone and a look and a feel to the ‘70s sci-fi movies I’d grown up with. From basically really like we’re talking Planet of Apes all the way to the end of the 80s to about, you know, a Blade Runner, where I was influenced by all the sci-fi movies greatly at because of my age. And because of my theater-going. And there was a certain look because of the technology at the time, because of the cameras used, because of the lenses used, because of the lighting styles of the time. And that ended up becoming some of our research.

What exactly were those details? And could we emulate them through programs that we created on the computer because it’s all data, it’s all zeros and ones right? And so that was a big reason that we got three big major advisors, which was Dennis Mirren from the effects world of ILM, Ben Burtt from the sound effects world of Star Wars, and a bunch of other sci-fi movies, including aliens, you know. And then, Roger Deakins for camerawork, and between the three of them, they literally were witness to or creators of what those details were, what those technical aspects were, and we could literally find out the information we needed, and then try to replicate it.

So there’s a real reason that Wall•E looks and feels the way it does is because we’re trying very hard to go could this feel like a movie that was just shot during that same time period. And as I didn’t want it to be photorealistic, I didn’t want to trick you into thinking you were watching reality. But I wanted you to feel like you were in that reality. It’s it’s a, it’s a play on words, but it’s like I wanted it to be believable.

And the other thing I really wanted was to make it feel like it was found that that this was going on somewhere in the universe, and you just happen to be privy to it, it’s not presented to you like Tada. And so there were things about the way we would use the camera, we would sometimes make it feel like it was finding things that it was lose its focus and come focus back, we would even give ourselves rules.

So if we were while he was in the truck, and there was only technically 10 feet by 15 feet in that virtual space, we act as if there was actually a cameraman in there. And he couldn’t put himself in through the wall or anything he had to be inside. So there were all these subtle things that, when it all comes together, makes you feel like, ‘Oh, I feel like I’ve I’ve seen this kind of a film before I’ve been in this world, but not in not in an animated film.’

When director Lee Unkrich did the press tour for Coco, he stopped by the Criterion Closet, and named dropped you and your Three Colors recommendation. That must have been a full-circle moment for you now that Wall•E is a part of the Criterion Closet.

It’s a bucket list moment for filmmaker. It’s certainly a bucket list moment for me. And, you know, I wanted it to be earned. I mean, we had an early dialogue, just before the pandemic, I approached this to Alan Bergman and asked if we could inquire Criterion if there might be an interest there because I really felt there was I really felt Wally was born from a love of art house cinema that I had in my DNA.

I felt like so much of what I took in from Criterion, either they were adding to their library, the films that I had grown up with that really did make a difference, or I was feeding from their library because I was a criterion doctor from the late ‘80s on and from the very beginning, so I almost felt like they shared some of the parenthood of the genesis in Wall•E because it has the musical influence, it has the romance, it has the silent cinema, and it has the Sci Fi. It’s pulling from everything that influenced me in a weird way. It’s like a stew for me when I look at it.

It felt was one of the most satisfying filmmaking experiences in my life because I felt like I got to scratch that itch that I’d had since like my first cinematic experience. And the fact that it was doing that to others that that was cutting through I just felt like that maybe it’s worthy of being in Criterion’s canon.

It’s been nothing but a joy to go back and look at it and then really get to talk about it as a filmmaker from the filmmaking process side of it, and not a franchise or brand studio side of it. Those all have their places. But there’s such just a pure love of cinema regardless of circumstances, regardless of era, regardless of when or when, or how it’s going to be seen that that movie was made from that I felt like maybe that could be discussed with criterion.

One special feature I thoroughly enjoyed was visiting the Pixar Archives because I got the rare opportunity take a look at it when I visited the studio for the Toy Story 4 preview. So how much fun was it for you to bring that experience to the world that only a few has access to?

It makes me feel old. Because I was there at the beginning. A few key people still are there at the studio. And I remember the day that drawing was done. I remember the day that maquete was made. And I remember, I remember a lot of these things that are cherished with white gloves, just slept on tables, they were next to coffee cups, and, and forgotten in corners until somebody found it.

Even when we were going through the archives for Wall•E for this doc, we went to the next storage facility over where they were keeping my personal items that I had gotten that I had sort of stored from so many movies on the studio. And I went through those boxes and found not just stuff from Wall•E that I gave donated to the archives, but stuff from Toy Story, Bug’s Life, like I just realized there’s just so much more stuff that’s probably worthy of the archive, that still just sort of disregarded and corners of offices and stuff.

It’s just weird because it feels like not that much time has passed, yet that much time has passed. And it’s weird to see it become valuable for historic and for educational reasons. And you’re honored. You’re just honored that it’s it does that to people because it certainly does that, to me any of the stuff that you because it was modeled after the archives, which are much larger and vast and valuable at Walt Disney Studios.

But I remember the feeling that, “God if I ever got to go in there and look at any of this actual stuff that’s inspired me. And to know that you are privy to a place and had anything to do with a place that has created a similar effect on people, especially on other filmmakers is is an honor. Just a big honor.

Finally, I wanted to ask you about what it was like to work with the late and great Ralph Eggleston, the production designer who worked on your film and countless other Pixar films?

Well, a lot of people don’t know that like all of us went to school together so many of us. We either were literally in the same class or we were just a year a couple of parts. So we were all in the same building. When my first day walking into my first year at CalArts, is as wide eyed, eager want to be animator students. The first student I’m bumped into was Ralph Eggleston. He was a year above me, sitting at his desk already working early in the morning, which turned out to be his habit till the day he died.

He basically was always the first to arrive and last to leave pics are working. And to know that B would be kind of one of the key reasons I got employment when I got out of CalArts. And that I would be able to return the favor when we were looking for a production designer or Toy Story.

He’s just always been, not just with Pixar, one of the major players, and one of the reasons the movies are the way they are. But he’s always been with me since animation became a real thing in my life. And so it’s been tough, it’s been tough to have him pass. It was a coincidence that we were making a doc about him in his color scripting, because we started it. And I was honored to be able to get to show him the cut of it before he passed. So it meant a lot to him. And it means a lot to be able to let the world know how important he was in his process and how important that was, and it’s a major, fundamental element of the, if you call it, the Pixar process.

The Wall•E Criterion Collection Edition is now available to own on Blu-Ray and 4K Ultra HD.