“WALL-E,” the newest Pixar offering from Disney, possesses many wonderful qualities. The best of all is that it has a great big heart.
It also has a conscience.
Alan Stanton’s film is not easy to categorize. It’s part science fiction, part an environmental warning, part robotic romance, while in form and style, it’s an operatic fantasy. Mostly, it’s an adorable chunk of cinematic magic because it somehow manages to succeed with a daring concept.
WALL-E, the title character, is not a cute little animal or a cuddly creature from outer space. WALL-E is a robotic trash compactor — that is, a Waste Allocator Load Lifter-Earth Class. When we meet him, he’s a leftover, doing his work, going about his business compacting trash on the long-abandoned Planet Earth. Oh what a mess we left when the world as we know it turned into a toxic garbage heap.
In a desolate urban environment, WALL-E picks up ping-pong paddles, light bulbs, assorted bric-a-brac, and even a single diamond. He has an old VCR on which he plays scenes from and hums along to tunes from “Hello Dolly!” In his own way, WALL-E is an artist. Accompanied by his pal, a genial cockroach, the robot arranges his compacted trash with architectural symmetry. He has a grand old time on a planet that has been abandoned for 700 years. Darn that trash.
Then, along comes what has to be a female visitor who descends from a spaceship. She is, we will learn, a penguin-like figure named EVE, or extra-terrestrial vegetarian evaluator. WALL-E falls for her, or so it seems, because we should pause here to note that there is very little dialogue; it’s mostly some intermittent bursts of beeps and bleeps. Somehow, somewhere, these potential antagonists have developed personalities. It’s a daring challenge to mount this story without much talking; in the process, we are transported back to the world of silent cinema.
DIRECTED BY Alan Stanton
SCREENPLAY BY Alan Stanton and Jim Capobianco
STARRING voices of Ken Burtt, Elissa Knight, Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Garlin
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
Somehow, and this is key, WALL-E has found a plant — a real plant. It is a symbol of hope in a hopelessly sterile planet. When the spaceship returns to Earth, curious, lovestruck WALL-E sneaks a ride to another galaxy. There, on an interminable “cruise,” we meet our descendants. They are fat, lazy blobs barely able to rise from their pads. They are the ultimate couch potatoes — the evolutionary results of sterile, aimless, lazy days vegetating before TV. In an environment obviously culled from “2001,” they are controlled idiots, their state reminding us of T.S. Eliot’s lines from “The Hollow Men”:
“This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Satirical and magical
Conceptually, it’s a hard slap upside the head, and for sure, a warning for our race. But in this G-rated fantasy, it comes at us as delightfully comic. It’s doomsday satire all right, but the magic is that none of it is heavy or gloomily pedantic. It’s just a little reminder, and if kids get it, good for them. If not, the movie more than works on another level.
Although it has something to say, nothing about WALL-E” is frightening or ponderous. Certainly, the dominant computer wants to maintain the status quo on the roving spaceship Axiom, where consumerism and technology reign with paralytic joy.
But then there’s that little plant, that environmental reminder that maybe there is hope for a new beginning. The guardians of that promise are EVE, WALL-E and the ship’s bloated captain, voiced by Jeff Garlin.
The work of Alan Stanton, who gave us “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E is the best Pixar offering to date. I imagine that after Mom and Dad see this with the kids, they will have a lot to talk about.