It’s almost a bit shocking to look at the animation revolution created by Pixar’s Toy Story and the studio’s breathtaking new film Wall-E and realize they’re separated by only 13 years. The detail is so overwhelming now, the computer animation so sophisticated and true to life, that the changing of the guard ushered in back in 1995 now just seems like a toy story itself.
There is more to marvel at here than just animation, however. Though it is more than a hair’s breadth from being a masterpiece, Wall-E is better science fiction and a better love story than you’ll see anywhere else this year. Those two tastes don’t usually go great together, but writer-director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) has found a way to make us acknowledge with our minds and feel with our hearts a story on the right path the bulk of the time, and he has captured one of the rare comic-romantic heroes to arrive since Chaplin.
Wall-E has been left behind on an Earth that can no longer sustain humanity. He’s a mobile trash compactor, and for 700 years, that’s what he’s been doing. But one day, a probe named Eve lands on Earth searching for life, and Wall-E falls RAM over motherboard in love with her. For about the first 45 minutes, this is one of the best and certainly one of most charming animated films of all time – and it accomplishes all of it without dialogue.
But there’s a tiny political axe grinding in the last third of Wall-E and a mostly unnecessary change of setting and tone that accompanies it. Left behind is a desolate home planet, a reminder of the sort of scourge man has brought to Earth over the last 150 years and what he’ll likely continue to do for many more. In its place is a technological marvel. A cruise ship in space, filled with robots catering to the every whim of the humans aboard, humans who over the many generations have grown so fat because they rely so much on machines that they can barely stand up.
It’s a warning worth heeding, but it doesn’t play very well in this film. It seems stuffed into place. And so, a brilliant, disarming, enchanting film becomes loud, busy, and bright. It’s not enough to sink what’s great about Wall-E but it sure makes you miss the classic-in-the-making it was building.