Starring (voices): Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Sigourney Weaver, Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin
Director: Andrew Stanton
Release Date: June 27, 2008
Running Time: 103 min
MPAA Rating: G
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
I have always said that the computer age is ruining the way people communicate with each other. Not that long ago when people wanted to interact they had conversations, either in person or over the phone, and if geography dictated, people even hand wrote letters to one another. Crazy. Now everything is email, text messages, instant messages, picture messages, MySpace comments, Twitter updates, and so on. For all of the “advances” in communication that have been made in the last 20 years, the very syntax of our language has deteriorated so much that people that grew up at any point without the internet or cell phones will potentially have a hard time keeping up. And it’s only gonna get worse.
Wall-E takes place in the year 2815. Earth, as we know it, no longer exists. It has been cannibalized unrecognizably and covered in trash. With nowhere else to turn, humanity has abandoned the planet while thousands of WALL-E units (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) were left to convert the garbage into disposable form. Sponsoring the Earth’s exodus is the Buy n Large Corporation, a global company that essentially controls Earth, in the form of space station resorts called Axiom, where people are waited on hand and foot. And when I say every comfort is afforded, I mean every comfort. Unlimited food and drink. An endless supply of anything one could ever dream of, everyone has gorged themselves worthless. Even that pesky nuisance of walking has been eliminated as everyone hovers around on devices designed to eliminate the need to do so. The plan was to get everyone off Earth for five years, allow the WALL-E units to clean up, and then return when living conditions had improved. That was 700 years ago. Over time, all of the units were deactivated. Except one.
WALL-E spends his time doing what he was created to do — compact and organize trash. He has his method down to a science and has his science down to an art. Compacting and stacking trash high enough to form a new skyline, he continues his routine without interruption. He gathers items he finds interesting to take back to his home each night. His only interaction is that of a cockroach that follows him around while he works. If no other event had taken place, I imagine WALL-E wouldn’t have even minded, not knowing a whole other world exists. That is until…
EVE is a robot sent from the Axiom to find plant life. A plant would mean Earth was capable of sustaining life and the inhabitants of the Axiom would be allowed to return home. WALL-E immediately falls for EVE, even after being repeatedly almost blown to bits. He follows her around like a lost dog and the two eventually become friends. WALL-E shows EVE the plant he found working one day, she immediately stores the plant and shuts down awaiting deportation, according to her directive. When they come to pick her up, WALL-E stows away and goes back to the Axiom and into a world that he has never been accustomed to. Where EVE’s directive is to get the plant back to the Axiom, WALL-E’s directive is to get back to EVE.
This is the part of the movie where you will make your decision as to whether or not you liked it. The first half will be almost unanimously regarded as classic, playing like a great silent film, devoid of almost all dialogue. We simply watch the minutiae of WALL-E’s existence and get a real sense of his personality. But it is in his interaction with other life forms that make the film brilliant. Two recent movies dealing with character isolation come to mind: Cast Away and I Am Legend. If you have any complaint about either of these movies, it is the third act — when they are finally forced to re-insert themselves into some kind of interaction beings other than themselves. They both fail in this regard because they couldn’t figure out how to close the story after showing the characters by themselves for the majority of the movie. WALL-E is not only unafraid of interaction, he welcomes it, he forces it. He cannot be bothered by the insecurities of meeting a stranger. Those meetings are merely stepping stones to a greater cause: finding EVE.
Movies satirizing the dysfunction of the industrial world consuming itself in the name of advancement are nothing new. The last place I ever expected to see that message, however, was in a Disney/Pixar movie. This is the 9th feature film from Pixar and with each movie, they find a way to advance the art of computer animation by such leaps and bounds that it is hard to imagine what they will look like five years from now. But WALL-E is exponential growth, both in story and animation and design. Writer/director Andrew Stanton impressed us all with the physics of believing you were really under water in Finding Nemo. If you thought that was good, wait’ll you get a load of this. He has taken his love of personifying inanimate objects, mixed it with the common Pixar themes of love, loyalty and friendship, and set it against a dystopian landscape for some of the most scathing social commentary in years.
Simply put, Wall-E is Pixar Animation Studio’s magnum opus. It is the most beautifully drawn and wildly romantic movie I have seen in many years. The deeper message may be lost on kids but make no mistake, six months from now we will still be talking about this as one of, if not the best movie of the year.
And there’s the rub.
* * * * out of * * * *