It's hundreds of years from now, practically no life (save for a cockroach) remains on the giant garbage dump that's become Earth, and, funnily enough, the only remaining sign of humanity can be found inside the planet's last functional robot: a trash collector (and compactor) named WALL·E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class). It's been roughly 700 years since humans last populated Earth, and in that time WALL·E has wasted away doing what he was originally programmed for: collect, compact and pile trash so that it's out of the way.
However, over the years WALL·E has managed to develop a bit of OCD, collecting certain items and methodically storing them in the large metal container he calls home. One day, while out searching for more trash (and knickknacks), a spaceship arrives to drop off another robot -- one whose mission it is to scour the area and search for life. And it's a girl ... named EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator).
Thus begins what is perhaps Pixar's most romantic film yet -- a beautiful sci-fi tale complete with all the feel-good vibes and fantastic, cutting-edge visuals we've come to expect from a film wearing the Pixar name. Despite a few small bumps in the galaxy, WALL·E can easily claim a spot up top on a list featuring the best films of the year so far, and it will surely go down as one of Pixar's most memorable -- because it's also one of their most personal.
The idea for WALL·E came about during "that famous lunch" back in 1994, where, while in production on Toy Story, Pixar pioneers Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Doctor and Joe Ranft dreamt up a number of ideas which would eventually become A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo -- the latter of which was the last Pixar flick directed by Stanton. Watching WALL·E, one can tell this is an idea that had been living and breathing inside the souls of these men (especially Stanton) for a long time. It's warm, it's engaging, and within the first five minutes you feel this attachment to the character as if he were your pet, your family, your loved one.
And it's easy to feel this way, since Stanton has created a character who's immediately sympathetic. Not only is WALL·E all alone, but he obsesses over the song and dance routines from an old videotape of Hello, Dolly!, found amidst the garbage -- specifically a scene showing two people holding hands. To WALL·E, holding hands represents love, and, as such, that physical act of affection becomes his new goal in life. How do you not root for a character who's cute, cuddly, lonely and searching for love? Heck, I don't need to be an astronaut to know there's a little bit of WALL·E inside each and every one of us.
Once you're hooked on the robot -- his wants, his dreams and his quirky shtick -- Stanton introduces the other successful theme found in most (if not all) of Pixar's films: communication woes. Last year it was a wannabe chef who had to find a way to communicate with a rat. This time around -- in what had to be a challenge for the filmmakers -- we have a couple of robots who speak no more than five words between them. How do you save the world in five words? It's not easy ... but it's a heckuva lotta fun watching it unfold.
So much fun that the film actually loses a bit of steam once WALL·E launches off the planet, hanging on to the side of the spaceship that's returned to retrieve EVE when she discovers what might just be the key to re-populating Earth. Eventually, we arrive onboard Axiom, a giant floating cruise ship designed to house what we imagine is the remainder of the human race -- thousands of obese individuals whose lives have been conveniently put on auto-pilot, thanks to the same giant corporation (Buy & Large) that helped destroy the planet in the first place. We meet people who travel to and fro via automatic recliners with TV monitors firmly positioned a few inches from their face, engulfed in all sorts of technology, drinking entire meals out of a straw. It's a rather disgusting scenario, but kudos go out to the animators for making it all look nice, shiny and Pixar-like.
Here's where you might expect a huge, preachy finale -- one that warns us of our obsession with consumption and technology, and how corporations can't destroy the world unless we stand by them, holding their hands. Luckily, WALL·E walks that fine line between blatant politics and actual storytelling quite well (with the exception of one line of dialogue), and while it's very easy to spot the messages, the film always falls back on its main character and his search for love. That's when this sucker flies, and that's when it's enjoyable to watch.
Visually, as always, this Pixar flick is stunning -- and the introduction of Pixar's first live-action character (Fred Willard as the president of Buy & Large) was a fine addition, one that fit nicely into the plot and didn't take anything away from the rest of the movie. If some of the robots sound familiar, it's because legendary sound designer Ben Burtt (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Aliens) helped navigate those waters. No, R2-D2 doesn't make a cameo, but there's no harm in imagining these robots as distant relatives of that legendary little dude.
If there's room for improvement, it comes in a desire to know more about the other quirky, maniacal robots WALL·E encounters while onboard Axiom. There are a few brief scenes (a running gag with M-O -- a cleaner-bot -- is quite hilarious to watch), though the ship is packed and things move fast. I recommend delving a bit into the viral marketing campaign, which helped breathe more life into the film's supporting players. Also, one imagines the DVD will come packed with all sorts of wacky what-to-do as well.
But definitely catch WALL·E on the big screen when you can, if only as a reminder of how good it feels to love, to dream and to want something so much, you'd happily chase it from one galaxy to the next.