Wall-E meets ‘Dolly’

Times Staff Writer

In high school, “Wall-E” director Andrew Stanton played the shy Yonkers store clerk Barnaby in the Jerry Herman musical “Hello, Dolly!” Decades later, two of the show’s lesser-known songs would play a pivotal part in the critically acclaimed Disney/Pixar animated hit.

Though “Wall-E” does feature a new song, “Down to Earth” by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman over the end credits, the two tunes that factor in both the film’s themes and plot -- the bouncy “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” used over the opening titles and the uber-romantic ballad “It Only Takes a Moment” -- were penned by Herman for the classic 1964 Broadway musical.

“I’m still blown away by the fact that two songs of mine that are close to 50 years old have been used as the underpinning,” Herman told the Associated Press earlier this week.

“At the time that I chose them I was consciously thinking this is the weirdest idea I ever had,” said Stanton, who also directed the Oscar-winning “Finding Nemo.”


Originally, noted Stanton, he was hoping to use 1930s French swing music for the opening scene in the film about a robot left alone on an abandoned Earth who falls in love with a sleek new research robot named Eve.

“I just loved that Wall-E fell in love with old-fashioned and romantic music,” he explained. “So the idea always was to have something that showed the audience that Wall-E had romantic tendencies.”

But when he came up with the concept for “Wall-E” in 2003, the French animated hit “The Triplets of Belleville” was released with a French swing score. “I didn’t want them to think I was being derivative,” Stanton said. “It made me look a little harder at old-fashioned songs. I got a list of standards and standards led to musicals because a lot of standards come from musicals.”

So he tried out songs from several well-known musicals. “It was literally like putting a swatch against the wall,” recalled Stanton. “I would take the song and put it at the beginning of the movie and just play it and see what happened to me.” When he got to “Hello, Dolly!,” he remembered one of his favorite songs from the show, “Put on Your Sunday Clothes.” “I heard that [lyric] ‘out there’; it just kicked in. I was hooked.”

But he didn’t tell anybody about his idea for a while because it was such an odd choice. “After a while I started to get comfortable with it,” said Stanton. “I realized the point of the song is about these two naive guys who had never left their small town and are going to the big city for one night and hopefully kiss a girl. And that’s my main character.”

But how would the plucky little robot know songs from “Hello, Dolly”? “My co-writer Jim Reardon said, ‘You know, he could have an old videotape of the movie. That might explain where he got it from.’ ”

They looked at the 1969 movie version directed by Gene Kelly that starred Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau and a very young Michael Crawford of “The Phantom of the Opera” fame, who sings the two songs featured in “Wall-E” -- his singing voice about an octave higher than it was in his “Phantom” days.

“That’s when I found the other song, ‘It Only Takes a Moment,’ and saw the two lovers [Crawford and Marianne McAndrew] holding hands. It was like this huge lightbulb went off. This is how Wall-E could express the phrase ‘I love you’ because he couldn’t say it. I took it as fate and I had to use it.”


He didn’t want to hold on to the idea of using the songs for very long to “find out a year from now I can’t use it” because of rights issues. Stanton not only had to get permission to use the song, but also the clips from the film. “Fortunately, some of our executives at Pixar knew some other executives at Fox [the studio that released “Hello, Dolly!”] and they were able to negotiate something.”