'WALL-E': How he found 'Hello, Dolly!'
Director Andrew Stanton and composer Jerry Herman divulge the story behind the Pixar flick's most memorable moments
Thanks to WALL-E, we now know two things that will survive the apocalypse: cockroaches…and Hello, Dolly! In the Pixar hit, a videocassette of the 1969 movie musical survives centuries of decay and trash compacting to become the title robot’s introduction to human emotion, if not a guide for living. Two fairly obscure songs from Jerry Herman’s Dolly score, ”Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and ”It Only Takes a Moment,” not only bookend the animated blockbuster but reoccur at key thematic intervals throughout.
We can understand why WALL-E director Andrew Stanton might have felt that the success of his movie depended on bringing in the all-important show-tunes demographic. But why that movie and those songs, of all the seemingly arbitrary things? EW.com spoke with Stanton to get the real story behind this unlikely revival…and we also talked, separately, with Jerry Herman, to get the original composer’s thoughts on how Hello, Dolly! has weathered the years. Here are our conversations with both maestros.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How many years ago was it that the idea to use those songs or that footage got stuck in your head?
ANDREW STANTON: I got the idea in early 2003, as I was finishing [directing] Finding Nemo. It’s actually written into the very first draft of the WALL-E script. It came about because was I intrigued by the notion of opening the movie with old-fashioned music playing over the image of space — the past versus the future. At first I had French, ’30s swing music, but then Triplets of Belleville came out, which was a pantomime film with French ’30s swing music in it! I loved Belleville and didn’t want to look like a copycat, so I nixed that idea. But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to broaden my search. I had done some musical theater in high school, so I auditioned songs from plays I was familiar with, one of them being Hello, Dolly! The instant I heard the opening of ”Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” with the opening phrase ”Out there…” I was hooked. I knew it was the weirdest idea I’d ever had, so I kept it to myself for a while until I felt I could better justify its use. Then I realized the song is about these two naïve guys, who’ve never left their small town, and just want to venture to the big city for one night and kiss a girl. That’s my main character!
Was there anything about the imagery as well as the music that made the Hello, Dolly! footage a must-have for you?
After discovering ”Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” I started exploring the other songs in the play, and when I found ”It Only Takes a Moment,” it just became this godsend because I was always looking for ways to tell the story without the need to use conventional dialogue. This song became a great device for showing WALL-E’s interest in what love is, and it gave him a way to convey his love for EVE. I happened to have read somewhere that holding hands is the most intimate public display of affection, which led to the idea of WALL-E learning that action by watching the movie. Suddenly I was desperate: ”I’ve gotta get a copy of Hello, Dolly! Please, please, please let them show these two lovers holding hands!” And they were! I took that as a sign that it was meant to be to have these songs in the film because Hello, Dolly! was suddenly helping me tell the story.
Would it be correct to think that Hello, Dolly! worked for your purposes because no one thinks of it as a truly great movie, and therefore there’s a certain kind of amusing randomness to WALL-E having it as his eternal video, versus something that is a certified classic… and yet the songs are rich or emotionally resonant in a way that maybe the complete movie isn’t?
Honestly, it was the songs themselves, which pre-date the movie, that interested me. After I decided to use ”Put On Your Sunday Clothes” as the opening cue, my cowriter, Jim Reardon, suggested that WALL-E could have discovered the song on a videotape, found in the trash. So that led us to incorporating the movie into the story. I do, however, think it was an asset to WALL-E that Hello, Dolly! is not as well known as other musicals. It became more of an everyman’s musical — almost more representative of the overall naïve joy that musicals can exude.
You didn’t try and fail to get any footage with Barbra Streisand in it, did you? It actually works better, not to have any ”star” footage in the movie, but I was just curious if you’d ever intended to use any clips that included her.
No offense to Ms. Streisand, but that’s exactly why I wasn’t inclined to use any footage of her. She’s so universally well known that it would have distracted the viewer, and potentially pulled the audience out of the story. Besides, the bits of the songs that I needed didn’t include her anyway, so it kind of answered itself. The fact that I used elements of the film that were just ”under the radar” of the public consciousness was very helpful for the story.
NEXT PAGE: Hello, Dolly! composer Jerry Herman’s perspective on WALL-E: ”It’s been almost 50 years since these songs were written, and they’re gonna have new lives. You don’t ever expect that in a lifetime.”