Wall-E is a perfect Pixar production, an alliteration that doesn’t do the magnificent film justice. Since its first feature in 1995, the animation studio continues to outdo itself, combining groundbreaking craftsmanship with brilliant and emotionally engaging stories.
It’s fitting that this film makes subtle references to science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey because Pixar’s creation furthers the evolution of animation and storytelling; a monolith of entertainment for all humans. Like the vast unknown of outer space, writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) explores the limitless possibilities of a computer-generated world and presents a touching take on the future of our own.
A soaring exploration of space comes to rest on Earth, surrounded by a misty cloud of drifting satellites. A closer look reveals a barren landscape of towering stacks of garbage that blend in with the abandoned city skyscrapers. It swoops in on a tiny robot roaming around the wasteland, a diegetic number from “Hello, Dolly” emanating from his on-board recorder.
A massive conglomerate called Buy N Large has seemingly taken over the globe, effectively ruining the population with its convenience. A holographic commercial from BNL tells the audience where all the people have gone. When pollution habits made the planet unlivable, they escaped in the corporate-sponsored spaceship, the Axiom, a 700-year cruise for its passengers.
The first 45 minutes play like a silent film, an unspoken display of amazing visuals punctuated by the beeps and anthropomorphic nuances of the charming robot. Ben Burtt provides the lovable sounds just like he did with another playful droid, R2-D2. The function of the Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class (or WALL-E) is to compact the trash into cubes and neatly stack them. But over the years, he’s developed a curiosity for little discarded treasures.
Hours before watching the movie, I was at a barbecue where a 2-year-old was being coached on new words. Someone would point to an object and say, “What’s this?” He’d tilt his head slightly to the side and say, “Ta-bril?” before being justly rewarded for his recognition of a table. It’s this same curious quality that equally makes Wall-E unbelievably adorable to adults while relatable to children.
After discovering silly uses for everyday items, Wall-E finds a tiny plant growing in a refrigerator. He stores it away for safe keeping just as an automated spaceship lands and delivers a more advanced robot, an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (EVE). Wall-E falls in love with the graceful robot and following a perilous introduction, he’s able to win her over. Having seen “Hello, Dolly” countless times, he just wants to impress her and hold hands. But when he shows her the plant, she stores it away and shuts down.
The same ship returns to retrieve Eve and complete the directive, but Wall-E doesn’t want to be left alone again without his new love. He grabs onto the ship as it rockets into space and begins an adventure aboard the Axiom floating without destination in the stars.
The passengers are all overweight reclining blobs ravaged by anti-gravity, sloth, and gluttony. The robots are more life-like than the humans, constantly skittering about to bringing meals in cups to the side of hover seats so the lazy can remain fixated on the projected TV show inches from their fat faces.
An autopilot system rejects the tiny plant and the protocol to return to Earth, labels Eve and Wall-E as dangerous rogues, and locks the captain (voiced by Jeff Garlin) in his cabin. With the help of a gang of misfit robots, the two must find a way to deliver the plant and rescue humanity.
The story is an obvious cautionary tale about how our reckless behavior could affect the environment, but is never preaching or pessimistic. Children will be delighted by cute robot antics and the older audience can appreciate the emotional and intellectual depth the film presents.
(There’s also a hilarious 5-minute short film shown before the feature called Presto about a magician and his hungry rabbit. Great stuff.)