Writer-director uses 'cinematic hip-hop' to enhance 'WALL-E'

Five years ago, the animation writer-director wondered whether movie-goers would even like his "Finding Nemo". After all, it featured an optimistic fish with extreme short-term memory loss.

"'Nemo' was such a hard movie to make," he says. "I went with my gut on so much stuff."

But Stanton, 42, won an Oscar and the movie earned more than $860 million worldwide.

Now arriving in theaters is Stanton's G-rated robot-love movie "WALL-E." The stakes seem even higher. In the film, robots of the future beep in their own language. Earth is virtually deserted. And our title machine is obsessed with watching old video clips from "Hello Dolly!"

It seems like a hard movie to market.

"I want to give audience members more credit," Stanton says during a recent visit to Atlanta to talk about "WALL-E." "One thing that's been consistent at Pixar is that we are film-goers first and filmmakers second. We go to the movies just as much as anyone else. And if we are all nodding our heads, we imagine we can't be that far off the mark."

Why did you choose to use so many clips from "Hello Dolly!", a movie musical of questionable quality?

I know I'm going to get asked that the rest of my life. It was an odd circumstance. I knew I wanted sort of old-fashioned music against space. I like the future contrasted with the past. I actually had '30s French swing music in the beginning. But then "The Triplets of Belleville" came out. And I was like, I don't want to look like that or look like I'm stealing from that.

As a kid I did a lot of musical theater so I remember things like "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Hello Dolly!" as requisites. So I'm just sort of bobbing through songs and I heard "Out There" (sung in "Dolly" by Michael Crawford) and it just kind of worked as a great punch. And it was about these two guys that have never been outside their small world and all they want to do is go out and experience night and kiss a girl. And that's exactly WALL-E. That's his dream.

And I looked at the other songs and when I saw, "It Only Takes a Moment" ... it's such an amazingly great way to tell a story. They can't say I love you ... but when I saw the two lovers holding hands, I thought this is great.

It's also a smart choice because you never want to put a better movie in your movie.

(Laughs). I kept saying it's sort of like cinematic hip-hop. Taking something that's already been established and using it for something else. WALL-E's got bad taste in musicals. What can I say?

Tell me about Ben Burtt, who created the sounds of R2D2 and many "Star Wars" creatures and who voices WALL-E.

It took about the entire time I worked with him to stop being a fanboy. His work influenced me so much as a film-goer. To be able to thank him by employing him to do another movie and to shine the spotlight on him more than he has ever had before for all the work he's done, I think that's the best sort of thank you I could ever give him. "Star Wars," particularly the first three when I was growing up meant a lot to me. And the first two "Indiana Jones" movies. I know he did work on "Alien." Those are all iconic and seared in my brain forever.

What was the original, clear essence of what WALL-E was that you built off of?

I didn't have an exact picture of what he looked like but I knew what his heart was like, and what his soul was like. And I would write dialogue even though I knew he wouldn't say those exact words. I wrote everybody's lines. I would just bracket the dialogue knowing that ultimately it would be replaced by the sounds.

What are your favorite movies?

I do have a top 10. "Lawrence of Arabia" is by far the best movie of all time. I get something out of that movie every time I watch it. I've seen it like 20 times. I love "The Lion in Winter." The best dialogue ever in any movie. I'm a big fan of "Gallipoli" and of "Matewan." "Cool Hand Luke." "Cinema Paradiso." "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Those are all in my top 10.

Hey, there's no animation in my top 10.

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