The word “wondrous” was invented for movies like WALL·E, which is more than perfectly fitting for a movie all about wonder and curiosity. Many great Pixar movies, from Toy Story to Ratatouille, have presented the trait of inquisitiveness as a virtue (though often resulting in a perilous but valuable journey) and in this film, it now becomes the central subject. Exploring that subject through the eyes of a robot, the Pixar animators now stake their mark of animated visual splendor in the science fiction genre.
Telling a good story is something the Pixar folks have never lost sight of and it is all the more astonishing here that it is done with so little dialogue. The first third of this movie is just a masterpiece of pure visual character-driven storytelling as we meet WALL·E (a Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-class) who is apparently left all alone on earth compacting and piling trash. He also has that little quality called curiosity as he has collected various items from the garbage from Christmas lights to a video tape of his favorite musical, Hello Dolly) in his little home that is an abandoned storage. At night, he “sleeps” by taking off his wheels and lowering his head into his cubical body.
WALL·E’s only companion on earth so far has been a small cockroach, but his rather lonely routine changes when he follows a red light that leads him to the site of a docking spaceship. He barely avoids getting crushed via digging his way into the ground. Out of the spaceship comes another robot, EVE (an Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) who is looking around for any signs of plant life. WALL·E is instantly smitten with her, though she unfortunately has the tendency to shoot first before asking questions. After EVE bonds with WALL·E’s pet cockroach, he is finally able to introduce himself and show Hello Dolly to her (from which he desperately gets a longing to hold hands just like Michael Crawford holds Marianne McAndrew's).
After he put fish characters into a touching father-son adventure, it does not come as a huge surprise that writer/director Andrew Stanton effortlessly brings such tangible human emotions to these animated robotic beings so that the story description can even be written. WALL·E’s eyes alone seem to carry all the emotions the character expresses from joy and awe to loneliness and tears. When EVE then enters the picture and he eventually turns her narrowing digital eyes to rounder, loving eyes, forget all the other recent, inane live-action romantic comedies you have seen.
This film, with Thomas Newman's subtly mesmerizing musical score and just a series of electronic purrs and one word dialogue exchanges between WALL·E and EVE (voiced by Ben Burtt and Elissa Knight, respectively), becomes one of the most delightful romantic comedies I have seen in at least the last five years. I will certainly have to watch the movie again (and I will, maybe even with the sound off) to closely see all the crisp visual details that convince that WALL·E is a he and EVE is a beautiful-looking robot.
Amidst all this, through a series of complications I will leave you to discover, a plot finally takes shape as WALL·E stows away on a rocket that lands on a gigantic spaceship inhabited by humans. We learn that Earth has been abandoned for 700 years and that the low-gravity atmosphere inside has turned the human race into fat and lazy beings who ride around in vehicles resembling large shopping carts, avoid any human contact, and stare blankly at their monitors spoon-feeding sugar-coated information everyday.
The ship’s captain (Jeff Garlin) is not even properly manning his ship because everything is really being controlled by artificially intelligent machines. Everything changes, however, when the captain himself starts to relearn about this long-abandoned planet called Earth and WALL·E and EVE must aid him to revive the human race.
At this point, I realize I have grown so enchanted with the story and the visual invention that I forgot to mention this is supposed to be a family film, too. It is just that it is a family film made with the imagination of a true dreamer and the patience of a skilled storyteller.
What is most ennobling is the way Stanton and the animators refuse to cater to the ADD-styled mindset of children these days and really challenge and engage the young viewers with bigger and even starker ideas. Besides being a moving love story between robots, the movie presents a highly effective cautionary warning not only for children but also for adults on not letting the world reach the state where an apathetic consumerist culture has led everything to be turned into trash and the humans to become a slothful culture (although I guess the WALL·E tie-in toys will still sell big time).
While digital animation has now presently become so commercially ingrained that the other studios have produced more mediocre, less imaginative efforts, the original innovators of Pixar have continued to provide great family films that entertain children as well as encouraging adults to tapping into their own childhood selves.
Last year’s Ratatouille showed how curiosity can transcend the label of “an animated family film” and explore more mature themes. Now, by even following the great tradition of classical science fiction of creating fantastical worlds to comment on the human condition, WALL·E brings to the forefront what all the other previous Pixar movies have hinted at: that curiosity must remain an unalienable human trait because, without it, we will lose our ability to look beyond ourselves like WALL·E does.
Bottom line: What are you waiting for? Go see it!