Excellent WALL-E finds love, hope at the end of the world

by Glen Baity

Ifyou haven’t ventured out to the theater in the past few months, I can’treally blame you. Maybe you’re over the superhero craze; maybe you likeyour Indy wrapped up in a neat little trilogy; maybe it’s been yearssince you laughed at either Adam Sandler or Mike Myers. And that’sokay. I’ll be the first to admit it’s been a lukewarm season so far forhumans. Ninja panda bears and sentient trash compactors? That’s another story. Dreamworks’Kung Fu Panda was already one of the best films to come out sinceMemorial Day, but once again, Pixar returns to raise the bar. At therisk of overburdening this review with clichÃ’©: If you see no othermovie this summer, or this year, see WALL-E, and see it on the bigscreen. The newest from the studio behind Toy Story and Ratatouille isa rare summer film. It isn’t an adaptation, or a remake, or the latestin an ongoing franchise, but that’s only one reason it’s such a breathof fresh air. More on that shortly. I’ll say first that everysingle frame of this film – the end credits included – is a discovery.With that in mind, I’ll keep the plot’s particulars to a minimum, andadvise that, for the best effect, you should really know as littleabout it as possible before watching. But you probably already know thebasics: your host is a boxy little go-bot named WALL-E – that’s WasteAllocation Load Lifter, Earth Class. Besides a solitary cockroach – hisonly friend – WALL-E is the sole being left on Earth, since theauthorities declared the planet inhospitable for human life 700 yearspreviously. In the intervening centuries, various WALL-E unitshave been dispatched to clean up the mess we humans have left. Thatline of custodians terminates with our hero, who spends his dayssifting through, and marveling at, the rubble of our lost civilization- our Rubik’s Cubes, discarded hubcaps, and unwanted VHS copies of MyFair Lady. He’s fascinated by much of it, and what doesn’t captivatehim is crushed into cubes, which he piles skyscraper-high amid theruins of what appears to be Manhattan. Every day is the sameuntil a passing spaceship drops off EVE, a flying, evidently-femalerobot that looks a bit like a Faberge egg as engineered by Steve Jobs.WALL-E is instantly smitten, weaned as he is on the Hollywood musicalversion of courtship. In a move that would be unbearably corny in anyother film, he makes holding her hand his new prime directive. Thiscovers the first half, and except for a few recognizable bleeps andbloops, there is no dialogue. Don’t let that scare you away – thisanimation team conveys volumes in WALL-E and EVE’s surprisinglyexpressive faces, and their love story is completely charming frombeginning to end. Seriously, they’re a couple for the ages. Pixardoes just about everything better than its contemporaries, but the areain which it most excels is its ability to disarm the viewer. WALL-E, onits face, is a cute story about two robots in love. But like everyother film from this studio, it’s really much, much more. This islargely thanks to director and co-writer Andrew Stanton, who puttogether some of Pixar’s most memorable pictures with Toy Story 2,Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, three films that comprise a veritablecase study in cinematic perspective. All three deal with the well-wornsubjects of childhood and its attendant growing pains, but they’retold, respectively, through the eyes of neglected toys, monsters inclosets and terrified single parents. So it should come as no surprisethat the end of the world, which occurs in seven out of every 10Hollywood movies, feels like unexplored territory in Stanton’s capablehands. That said, the dusty, red remains of Earth look quite abit like the scorched planet of Mike Judge’s 2005 non-hit Idiocracy,though humans, in Stanton’s imagination, at least had the good sense toget out. But WALL-E, in a surprisingly strong statement, shares some ofIdiocracy’s inherent disappointment at humanity in general (though iteschews Judge’s scattershot rancor), casting the descendents of earthas a bunch of incurious, overweight tourists in the film’s second half. Likethe rest of the film, however, Stanton’s social criticism comes from agentle heart, and WALL-E is ultimately generous to all its characters.I’m always wary of overstating, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t closethis review by saying I haven’t had such a satisfying experience at themovies in years. WALL-E might be the finest film Pixar has ever made,which is high praise for a studio whose name has become synonymous withquality animated story-telling. There are scenes in this film -WALL-E’s first glimpse of EVE, or an elaborate zero-gravity dance amongthe stars, to name only two – that in a few short years will be asrecognizable in the pop-culture lexicon as ET’s glowing finger.