WALL-E dazzled audiences with its stellar animation and uncanny ability to make us empathize with a small, mostly faceless robot, but it also boasts another achievement: It was the first Pixar movie to feature a live-action actor.
“You could just hear the audience in the opening scenes,” Fred Willard recalled to PeopleTV recently about his flesh-and-blood role in the animated movie. “It must have been like when sound came out back in 1926.”
Willard portrayed Shelby Forthright, the CEO of the Buy n Large Corporation, whom we only meet through video recordings. It’s Forthright who presented the global plan to clean up Earth via robots while humans were off on a spaceship. The original idea was that humans would return quickly, as soon as the planet was clean, but as portrayed in the film, things didn’t go quite according to plan.
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And even though the CEO’s name is Forthright, the character is anything but. “I guess I look like the perfect foolish person to be in charge of the entire Earth,” Willard joked of how he got the gig.
WALL-E also features other live-action footage: Everyone’s favorite clean-up robot learns about holding hands and falling in love by watching musical numbers from the 1969 film Hello, Dolly! The effect — of Willard’s role and the Hello, Dolly! vignette — is to make the message of WALL-E even more meaningful. This could be our world, if we don’t protect it.
“That’s why I was very proud to be in that movie,” Willard said, “because not only was it entertaining, but it was a very good message.”
Watch the video above for more from Willard and his WALL-E role.