Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
For 700 years, WALL-E a Waste Allocation Load Lifter robot, Earth-Class has been doing the job he was programmed to do. Left behind on an Earth no longer inhabitable by humans, the solar-powered WALL-E gathers and compacts garbage, stacking the cubes in skyscraper-sized towers, over and over, all day long.
But he's not so single-minded that he's unable to find wonder in the mountains of trash. In his makeshift home, he has built a collection of artifacts that intrigue him: a Rubik's Cube, a spork, the velvet case for a diamond ring and, most importantly, a single ancient VHS tape of the exuberant musical Hello, Dolly!
Historically, writer/director Andrew Stanton and his Pixar cohorts have strewn plenty of metaphorical content throughout their delightful features: a critique of radical egalitarianism in The Incredibles; Cars' paean to the roadkill left on the superhighway to "progress." In WALL-E, Stanton recognizes that his little robot has developed a soul because of what he does outside his mundane routine. Being human, he reminds us, is about the ability to recognize beauty the kind of beauty you find in a work of art like this little miracle of a movie.
WALL-E presents its 28th-century Earth as a dust-blasted cityscape, the result of a consumer culture encouraged by the omnipresent Buy n Large corporation. When another robot called EVE (Elissa Knight) arrives on a mission to find any sign of life, WALL-E falls in love at first sight and follows her back to the massive spacecraft that has become the home-in-exile of surviving humans obese people in chaise-lounge hoverchairs. When the ship's captain (Jeff Garlin) begins engaging with the history of a planet he barely understands, he finally demonstrates a humanity that previously had seemed recognizable only in the robots.
Stanton builds to this idea patiently. For approximately the first 45 minutes, the story emerges with almost no spoken dialogue, dependent on visual storytelling and the electronic blips of sound designer Ben Burtt who also created R2-D2's "language" 30 years ago for WALL-E's quirky personality. The film doesn't aim at the attention span suggested by its G-rating. This is no passive viewing experience; it practically demands engagement.
Even once the action moves to the expatriate humans' starship Axiom, WALL-E remains a marvel. A tiny cleaning robot called M-O obsessively scrubs the filthy tread marks left behind by WALL-E's seven centuries' worth of caked-on muck; a collection of malfunctioning robots runs free on the ship like mechanical refugees from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, following WALL-E as their McMurphy. And in a sequence of almost heartbreaking poetry, WALL-E and EVE both find themselves outside the Axiom, the sleeker EVE jetting along gracefully while WALL-E propels himself with a fire extinguisher. It plays like a transcendent first date.
Pixar's ongoing pushing of the computer-animation envelope becomes part of the storytelling. As impressive as it may be to watch the flicker of a flame grow ever more realistic, it's even more wonderful when the reflection of that flickering flame in WALL-E's eyes represents the spark of love.
WALL-E holds out a hope that we can find the best in ourselves, even if sometimes it takes a technological marvel like the work of Pixar to remind us of how much joy we can discover if we're willing to stop shoveling garbage long enough to fall in love.