Eight hundred years into the future, a tiny waste disposal robot named WALL-E (for Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-class) is the only sentient being left on Earth. Scavenging replacement parts from his fellow, inactive, WALL-E units when he suffers damage, he continues to follow his directive to compact and organize the refuse left behind by the human exodus which took place in the 2100s, when mega-corporation Buy ‘n Large essentially took over the planet and the consumerist apotheosis became a terrestrial apocalypse.
Directed by Andrew Stanton.
The earth was left barren, all industrial derelicts and dust storms, and apart from a friendly cockroach, WALL-E is infinitely alone, watching Hello, Dolly! daily and learning emotion, as well as loneliness, from this solitary ritual.
This all changes when EVE (an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) arrives on Earth to scout for plant life according to her programming; WALL-E falls immediately and hopelessly in love with the graceful robot, presents her with a seedling he found growing in the debris, and triggers her mission to bring mankind home from its “executive starliners” in deep space, where centuries of increasing automation have rendered the humans indolent and obese, nearly helpless without their robotic acolytes.
The first half hour of WALL-E features no dialogue whatsoever. Focused exclusively on WALL-E’s solitary diligence, it plays like Castaway by way of Toy Story: an endearing throwback to silent, Chaplin-style physical comedy and slap-stick reminiscent of Looney Tunes or Abbott & Costello. But adults won’t find themselves bored any more than their kids will. WALL-E is the most lovable, anthropomorphic A.I. since R2-D2 and C-3PO and this story has been brought to life not only with the very latest CGI, but also the deft direction, good humour, and attention to detail we have come to expect from films bearing the names of Pixar and Walt Disney.
The story switches gears with the arrival of EVE, as she and WALL-E find their way back to the Axiom, the largest of the starliners, where WALL-E causes havoc and they face a malignant, HAL-like computer system charged by Buy ‘n Large with preventing humanity from ever returning to earth.
The lesson, given WALL-E’s innocent charm, his playful wistfulness which is lacking – at first – in any of the homo sapiens he encounters, is simple: in the future, it takes a robot to teach people how to be human again. And taking place in a post-apocalyptic scenario rather familiar in the science-fiction genre, WALL-E includes a fair amount of social commentary, touching on issues including environmental responsibility, human laziness, apathy, the consumerism, and the mad rush to “technologize” every aspect of our lives. Yet the critiques are subtle, didactic, and never preachy.
References fly fast and furious: Blade Runner almost right off the bat, with E.T. and Close Encounters hot on its heels, and the inevitable nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey showing up both in the form of the Machiavellian auto-pilot and the film’s score, which makes use of the two most iconic pieces from 2001’s soundtrack, “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and “The Blue Danube.”
Inorganic or not, WALL-E has more heart than any live-action film out so far this year. It’s not quite a Lion King, an Aladdin, or a Toy Story, but it is already clearly destined to join their ranks in the highest echelon of animated entertainment, incredible fun for children and adults alike.