In the summer of 2008, Disney and Pixar released their most unique film to date: WALL-E. It told the story of a little robot named WALL-E, the only living thing on Earth after humanity flew into outer space in order to escape the mass pollution they created. Day in and day out, the little robot tries to clean as much as possible due to his programming, but when he finds something of interest, he brings it back to his home and makes it part of his collection of treasures. Care to guess what one of his treasures is?
Yep, a VHS copy of Helly, Dolly!
This film reference is perhaps one of the most known today. Before I detail this let me talk to you about Helly, Dolly!
"Hello, Dolly!" started its life on the Broadway stage. With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, "Hello, Dolly!" tells the story of a widow who wishes to find love for herself and many of the city's couples, presented in a grand, musical farce. The 1969 film version (directed by Gene Kelly, "Singin' in the Rain") stars Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau in 1890's New York City. The film was released on December 16, 1969 by 20th Century Fox. The movie nearly bankrupted the studios, and has gained infamy as being inferior to the stage production and was largely forgotten afterwards
So, how did "Hello, Dolly!" end up in WALL-E?
At the end of the day, WALL-E likes to relax by watching a VHS copy of "Hello, Dolly!". The VHS player is connected to an iPod, and the screen is magnified for his viewing pleasure. Unlike other film references, this one is unique in that it's vital to the plot development. Through the movie he learns about the virtues of love and happiness.
Opening the movie is the song "Put on your Sunday Clothes". In the play and film it is used to represent young, naïve love. In WALL-E, it's used in an ironic context. The first image we see in the film is that of a brown, decaying Earth, with the atmosphere cluttered by waste. Later in the film, WALL-E tries to learn to dance like the performers in the movie, using a lid to simulate a hat.
Here is a clip of the musical number:
"It Only Takes a Moment" is the play's love theme, an anthem for true love. In WALL-E it too is a love theme. WALL-E meets another robot called EVE. She is a white, modern robot sent to Earth to try and find proof that it is habitable again. WALL-E beats her to the punch, and finds a leaf growing out of an old boot. He gives it to EVE as a token of love, something he learned by watching the movie.
The song is used throughout the movie to signify the love between EVE and WALL-E, providing the audience with some of the emotional scenes in the storyline. Through their love, humanity learns to once again live life and provides inspiration to restore Earth to its natural beauty. As Jerry Sherman stated in an interview with Entertainment Weekly about the movie, director Andrew Stanton used the lyrics rather than the melody to show us what the characters thought of each other. To WALL-E, love only takes a moment and is symbolized by the union of two hands.
This is the clip that WALL-E so dearly loves:
So, the film version of "Hello, Dolly!" wasn't considered a classic when Pixar used it in WALL-E. What made a classic in the end was not that it was used in the movie, but HOW it was used. It's a beautiful testament of how movies can teach us about the wonderful things in live, or inspire us to pursue them like WALL-E did. Films can leave an impact in us, and many times help us become better people. What may have been a gimmick ended up being essential in telling one of the greatest film stories of the last decade.
To learn more about how Pixar implemented "Hello, Dolly!" in the movie, check out this Entertainment Weekly interview with director Andrew Stanton and composer Jerry Herman.