The Semiotics of Hello, Dolly!
At one point, Eve takes the position of Wall-e and the viewer. At first she had not allowed herself to be drawn into the constructions being implemented in Hello, Dolly!, at least not until the "mortise" was just right, when the "image [of Wall-e's desire]...was framed" in just the right way for her (Rose 90). From this perspective, the image from Hello, Dolly! where they hold hands becomes something like an advertisement under the lense of semiotics. The "synecdochal" sign of the couple's clasped hands is the representation of love for Wall-e, what he has been pursuing, trying to perform with Eve, but it wasn't until she was out from under the influence of her 'directive' was Eve able to perceive the meaning behind the image (Rose 87).
For the audience watching Wall-e, seeing Hello, Dolly! on a screen in the context of an animated sci-fi film does something unique to the "salience" and "modality" of the image of those two real figures clasping hands. The reality of those clasped hands pronounces their salience or "eye-catching" capabilities when surrounded and viewed by the animated world which in turn is viewed by us, the audience. (Jewitt and Oyama 151) Jewitt and Oyama defined modality as how "real" something is, either in a "specific way..naturalistic" like photographs, or in a "scientific way...sensory" like charts and graphs which describe something "in general...or according to some deeper, 'hidden' truth...[it] probes beyond the surface and abstracts from detail" (Jewitt and Oyama 151). The clasped hands Eve views are very naturalistic, while the modality of what they represent (love and companionship) is very real. Literally, the images the animated robots watch are images of real people who are acting out a recognizable form of love.
When I had first watched Wall-e I had been confused with the director for splicing in real film footage for the on-screen television images. There is a healthy historical discourse of Disney films where animation and realism coexist, although never done before in terms of Pixar's computer animation styles. Many of these films like The Three Caballeros(1944), Song of the South(1946) and Fun and Fancy Free (1947) faced brutal critical response as it is discussed in Eric Smoodin's Animating Culture (Smoodin 105). Of course, over time, films like Mary Poppins (1964) and Bed Knobs and Broomsticks (1971) have become timeless Disney classics, where reality facilitates fantasy (clearly defined by animation) in order to expose and highlight particular human issues through anthropomorpholigcal means. Because of its high ratings, positive critical response, audience approval, box office numbers and Academy Award, we know that Wall-e did not suffer with the inclusion of realism amidst its animation. Visually speaking though, the way realistic film is used in Wall-e proves peculiar, one of a kind and necessary for the film, by highlighting what the audience would take for what is real or "the regime of truth" (Rose 144). Now, in light of the sheer salience of these images amidst the animation, how they draw the eye so effectively, it makes sense why Stanton opted to include "real" images in an animated sequence, even if he didn't fully realize how much impact these real images would have. "It was born out of necessity," Stanton says. "I had Wall-e watching an old movie, which forced me to show footage of real human beings, and it set a precedent: Any time you look at old footage, it should be regular human beings" (Breznican) But it was more than this, more than necessity, because it focused and re-focused the most prominent meaning behind the visual image of Wall-e himself, a discovery of human nature. Those very real people on the screen being watched first by Wall-e, then Eve, are a specific and realistic representation of humanity and all of its potential. The "framing" implemented by the real images show two people coming together in heterosexual unity, two pieces of the same. In a similar way, the same can be said for the infusion of real cinematography into animation.
Andy Darley wrote an incredible article called Second-order realism and post-modernist aesthetics in computer animation. Darley talks about a short film done by Pixar's John Lasseter called Red's Dream(1987), a short film which helped to pave the way for Wall-e in all of its simulated glory, along with other such titles like Toy Story(1995), Finding Nemo(2003) and Cars(2006). The forms of "unprecedented imagery" in Red's Dream "involve particular kinds of contact with already established aesthetic conventions and form" (Darley 16). I bring this up because Darley emphasizes that the "contact comprises modalities of hyrbidisation and simulation...The resulting aesthetic is an illuminating example of visual post-modernism...This aesthetic is an example of new levels of preoccupation with signifiers at the expense of signification and reference." (Darley 16)
The hybridisation and simulation in Wall-e goes so much further beyond what Darley was talking about in Red's Dream however. Although what is constructed in Wall-e is clearly animation, and a lot of emphasis and preoccupation goes into the viewing of the signs in the film, the visual post-modernism of the piece draws it ever nearer to simulated reality, or "cinematic realism" where "cinematic technology and style move toward a 'total and complete representation of reality'" (Manovich 7). Darley argues that the basic forms in computer animated films, their novelty and the tension they create in their limbo stage between animation and reality de-emphasizes the signification of what those signs mean, but based on the visual approach Wall-e takes, I disagree.
Again, going back to the salience of the real images on display in the film, the audience is brought back to what is real. Those real images in Wall-e are meant to represent our present day earth and consumer culture while the animated world surrounding those real images are meant to signify an imagined, but very possible future for humankind and robots alike. Rather than allow for the connotive meanings behind the forms in Wall-e to become interrupted and potentially lost because of the novelty of the film's visuality, Stanton interrupted the fluidity of his film's hybridisation and simulation or unique "synthetic combining through the computer of a number of prior image forms... Disney style animation, three-dimensional animation and live action cinema" by implementing live action footage as paradigmatic (Darley 19).
As if we need another vocabulary word, "paradigmatic signs gain their meaning from a contrast with all other possible signs" (Rose 84). We see Hello, Dolly! and the BnL CEO, played by Fred Willard, as real while everything surrounding those real images emulates that reality, but is definitely fake, nothing more than a supposition albeit an entertaining one. The reason I focus on this so heavily, the salience and relationship of these signs has everything to do with the impact of this film, and how it conducts and conveys signification on multiple levels. This all goes back to what I believe to be the overarching connotive meaning behind the interaction between Wall-e and these real images, a re-discovery and re-creation of love and empathy and curiosity, the positive attributes of the human condition, even if they are heavily influenced by particular hegemonic institutions like the gender binary. The section labeled Distinguishing and Engendering Robots discuss how Wall-e and Eve are visually constructed as humanistic, although they look nothing like humans, and how this construction is vital from the very beginning of the film for Wall-e to gain an audience's support and understanding.

Use the images below to either read about how robot engendering or go back to Watching Wall-e or Visualizing Humanity.
Engendering Robots
Image by anime-dragon-tamer
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