Wall-E

In theaters.

Movement is near to nature—as a bird flying—and it is the spoken word which is embarrassing. The voice is so revealing, it becomes an artificial thing, reducing everybody to a certain glibness, to an unreality. Pantomime to me is an expression of poetry, comic poetry. I knew that in talking pictures I would lose a lot of eloquence.

—Charlie Chaplin

I love that line. I don’t entirely agree with Charlie Chaplin (I’m a word person, after all), but it is truer than I would like that words—even the right words—often are inadequate. An image, a gesture, a silence often means more than words ever could.

To demonstrate the point, I give you Wall-E, Pixar’s latest animated gem and, according to many, the studio’s masterpiece. It is, indeed, a gorgeous movie, one destined for a cherished spot in my DVD collection, but I don’t think it’s as perfect as its most passionate fans believe, and I’d even guess (with unforgivable arrogance) that Chaplin would agree with me. The wordless passages—the opening act, the zero-gravity robot ballet, the poignant history-of-art epilogue over the closing credits—are just as profoundly beautiful as everyone says, but whenever dialogue enters the picture, the movie dips from greatness to goodness. The words aren’t bad (though they do veer toward the heavy-handed), but they simply can’t compete with the poetry of pantomime and suffer by comparison. In this instance, at least, Chaplin was right.