Directed by Andrew Stanton. Voices by Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver. Starring Fred Willard. (2008, G, 97 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 27, 2008
What would Stanley Kubrick – or for that matter, Arthur C. Clarke or even Isaac Asimov – have made of Pixar's WALL-E? It's the story of the last functioning robot (a "Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class," to be more precise), who leads a solitary existence cleaning up an ecologically devastated Earth, some 700 years after the last human being abandoned the dying, trash-strewn planet for the pristine safety of the stars. WALL-E (Burtt), a boxy, oxidated whirball on treads with expressive, binocular eyes, has only a chittering cockroach pal to share his endless days with, and that makes for one lonely robot. He's learned about companionship from an old VHS copy of the musical Hello, Dolly!, and as the massive dust-and-debris storms roll in every evening, the dingy little 'bot hunkers down inside a makeshift home adorned with the finer detritus of his scavengings – Christmas lights, Commodore 64s, and rubber duckies. Thus safely ensconced, he dreams not of electric sheep but of love. And then, without warning and in a blast of fiery thruster thunder, a titanic vessel lands in his back yard and deposits EVE (Knight), an ovoid female robot who has been given a directive to discover if life – plant life, animal life, any life – has blossomed in the seven centuries since Homo sapiens turned their back on their home world. She finds it, too, not only in WALL-E but also in a single, frail green sprout that may well be the only real life on the planet. Mission accomplished, she turns herself off to await the return of her mother ship (whose onboard computer is voiced, in a nice touch, by Sigourney Weaver). WALL-E, however, is smitten almost from the moment of EVE's first appearance, and while the film eventually takes both of these ’droids off-world and into the sedentary, emotionally disconnected world of the surviving human race, the story remains focused on the blossoming romance between the little load-lifter and his blue-eyed paramour. This is Pixar's finest and most emotionally powerful film yet, and it draws on a wealth of cinematic resources that runs the gamut from Chaplin's best to Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, and even Martin & Lewis. It's a virtually dialogue-free film up until its midpoint, at which point lyrical references to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Industrial Light & Magic's special-effects legend Dennis Muren contributed heavily to replicating the 70mm look of Kubrick's film), Douglas Trumbull's elegiac Silent Running, and even Geoff Murphy's The Quiet Earth begin to crop up all over the place. (There's also a Sputnik-y shout-out to The Iron Giant's Brad Bird.) But sci-fi aside, WALL-E is a love story, pure and simple. Pixar's ceaselessly creative animation artists drench the screen in a dazzling palette of violets, magentas, crimsons, and pinks – the colors of the heart – and achieve a level of clarity that approaches reality without sacrificing one iota of dreamy, animated wit. By turns sad, hilarious, exciting, and, ultimately, hopeful, this is a film of Great Truths masquerading as child's play. Those past science-fictioneers Kubrick, Clarke, and Asimov would've loved it, I think, and I'd wager my first edition of The Martian Chronicles that Ray Bradbury, too, is going to recognize a kindred, humanist soul in WALL-E's life-affirming quest for love.