Part E.T., part Short Circuit, the new Pixar film WALL-E evokes the fondest memories from both of those 1980’s too-cute-to-forget films. Both charming and intelligent, movie-goers will welcome this delectable blend of technology and emotion, and will be drawn into a story that is as heartwarming as it is educational.
WALL-E carries on the mantle of perfection that Pixar has established with Monsters, Inc. and Ratatouille, and actually manages to take the animation to new heights. Director Andrew Stanton, who masterfully told the ultimate (fish-)Father’s Day story with Finding Nemo, has hit his stride with this simple story of a garbage robot who ultimately saves the world.
The lead character is the title robot, whose name, WALL-E, is an acronym for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-Class.” Its — wait, his — sole purpose was to clean up garbage and pack it away in neat, little cubes. Since the human race had left the planet on a giant spaceship seven centuries before, the little robot had plenty of work cut out for him.
After so long in solitude, he developed a curiosity and a personality that allowed him to discover several marvels of humanity: an iPod, a VHS copy of Hello Dolly, a Rubik’s Cube, a light bulb, and a simple plant, among countless other treasures. His curiosity created a certain peculiar value system that led him to discard a diamond ring in favor of its felt box. Moments like this is what give WALL-E its charm and wit, allowing people of all ages to appreciate its value.
The film has very little dialogue in its first hour, something that in most cases would put children to sleep. Somehow, WALL-E keeps not only their attention, but the attention of their sometimes equally fidgety parents. The story is incredibly simple: Two robots meet, one finds the key to the survival of the human race, and they meet resistance by a powerful computer who’s bent on thwarting that salvation.
It’s here that the story takes on another role as an educator, which is probably what has elevated it to greatness a-la The Iron Giant. The film takes the time to establish that Buy ‘n Large, the ultimate big-box store, had wrecked the technological society that it helped to create. While it’s a little bit of a stretch to say that a megastore corporation would destroy the earth’s ecology, the concept works well for this story, not only as entertainment, but as education.
It’s these far-fetched ideas that make for great stories. Earth had been rendered uninhabitable, forcing the company to create a massive starship that would serve as an ark for the survivors. The ship sent out several smaller vessels to scout for signs of renewal of plant life. One of the ships lands near WALL-E’s quaint little home, with EVE, the Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator.
When the robots communicate with each other, they don’t use traditional speech. Instead, the voices of Ben Burtt and Elissa Knight are contorted into twingy, twangy, digitized singsong modulations that are instantly recognizable. We’re not only drawn in to the world that Pixar created, but into the life of two very special robots.
What follows is an intriguing love story between the little robots, which then elevates to the next level. It is as sweet as it is romantic, and moves beyond the earlier montages in the film. Once EVE finds that one piece of evidence of the earth’s renewal, she signals for retrieval, and WALL-E gives chase.
Probably my only criticism is that it sometimes appears to be a little preachy about the potential downfalls of overuse of technology and convenience. However, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that maybe it SHOULD be preachy. In a time where iPods and PSPs have taken over the lives of our younger generations, maybe we all need to consider just where a complete reliance on technology might take us. WALL-E provides one such possibility, carefully disguised as a great movie. After all, wouldn’t our lives be a little simplified if we didn’t have a gadget for every task?
In many ways, WALL-E could have turned down the pike of a sappy morality play, but has avoided these pitfalls with clear wit and deliberate storytelling. It’s intelligent, incredibly cute, romantic, and offers a lesson in waste and overuse to boot. To say that “Pixar has done it again,” would be inaccurate. This is just the latest in a string of films that are the very reason why we go to the movies. More than that, it’s why we go back to see movies again and again.