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A New High for Pixar
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

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Fourteen years after the inspiration first struck him, Stanton has finally brought Wall*E to life.

STANTON INDULGES HIS SCI-FI FANTASY
(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

There’s something to be said for an idea that won’t go away, especially when it’s conceived by a man whose creative track record remains gloriously unblemished.

For Andrew Stanton, the acclaimed director, screenwriter and graphic artist who became just the ninth employee at Pixar Animation Studios back in 1990, the idea he couldn’t shake was the one, born almost as long ago, that would eventually inspire Wall*E: What if mankind evacuated earth and forgot to turn off the last robot?

Even as the 42-year-old Massachusetts native worked on the movies that would turn Pixar into the pride of the Walt Disney empire – Toy Story, The Incredibles and Ratatouille among them – his thoughts kept returning to that melancholy robot, dutifully performing his chores in a desolate, post-apocalyptic world.

“The idea came from a lunch we had in the summer of ’94,” says Stanton, referring to the now-famous meal with early Pixar architects John Lasseter, Pete Docter and Joe Ranft that produced the concepts behind Finding Nemo, which Stanton directed, as well as A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc. “We couldn’t stop talking about this little R2-D2-like robot, but the idea immediately got shelved because we didn’t think anyone would let us do it. Toy Story was unproven, and we hadn’t really proven ourselves, either.”

The studio turned its attention to Bug’s Life, and Stanton admits he was “balls-to-the-wall” busy until 2002, when he was finishing Nemo. It was then that he began obsessing about Wall*E, the trash-compacting robot who inhabits a mostly barren world abandoned by man. No longer a neophyte and blessed with a history of unprecedented success – Pixar’s eight feature films have grossed $4.3 billion worldwide – Stanton decided it was time.

“Why would he be the last robot on earth? Where could this go? I started thinking it should be a love story because he’s such a lonely character,” he says. “Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and usually when that happens you know something is there. The time was right because the technology had improved so much, and we’d grown so much as filmmakers.”

Stanton acknowledges that Wall*E, a film with abundant beeps, bleeps and metallic crashes but very little dialogue, is a departure from the straightforward narrative style of, say, Ratatouille, but he’s hoping that audiences now trust enough in the Pixar brand to try, as he puts it, “something a little out there.” He also hopes they can embrace his passion for old-fashioned sci-fi.

Stanton’s enthusiasm as he names some of his favorite films – 2001, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and Alien – is contagious, and it’s no surprise when he admits that Wall*E, whose elaborate universe recalls Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner, was a deliberate attempt to rediscover the majesty of the genre.

“After the late ’80s, I was never as enthralled by what I was seeing, so Wall*E was a very conscious effort to get back to the feelings those movies inspired,” he says. “I wanted to be transported into another universe, and to share that sense of wonder with the audience.”

While Stanton is loath to get ahead of himself, he admits he's had another inspiration for his next movie – one of those haunting ideas that slowly becomes an obsession. It's an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lost-in-space saga John Carter of Mars, which might incorporate live action into Pixar’s traditionally animated format. A gamble? Perhaps. But by now, Stanton is used to them.

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