This story takes place over 700 years in the future. Earth has been long abandoned by the human race after having been covered in garbage due to excessive consumerism. A fleet of robots designated WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load-Lifer Earth class) was left behind to clean up the mess. By the time the film opens, however, there is only one WALL-E unit still functioning. In the first twenty minutes or so, we get a look at his “life.”
Sometime during those 700 years of cleanup, WALL-E developed a personality. He is intensely curious about the junk he finds lying around and saves the most interesting knick-knacks including a Rubik’s Cube, an iPod, and a VHS tape of the musical Hello, Dolly! From these items he learns a bit about humans or rather the way humans used to be.
What humans have become is an altogether different matter as WALL-E discovers after a space ship lands on Earth delivering a shiny white robot named EVE (I’m not going to explain the acronym as that would give away plot details). WALL-E’s curiosity soon transforms into love, but EVE is beholden to her programming.
I was relieved and surprised that the love story was sweet and touching. It could have very easily been awkward and stupid like, say, the “love story” between Ann Darrow and King Kong, but WALL-E has so much heart that it works. It also helps that they’re both robots.
I’m going to stop telling the story here lest I give something away. I’ve known the basic premise for about a year now and even though it wasn’t a surprise, the beginning was the most delightful part. Since WALL-E is fairly incapable of speech, it almost functions like a silent movie. The visuals tell the story. You learn about the character by watching him. Film is a visual medium and, like good writing, it works best on the principle of “show, don’t tell.” It’s not that the rest of the movie is bad; it’s that WALL-E is such a great character that it’s somewhat disappointing when the plot begins to dictate that other characters must crowd the scene.
I must take a moment to say something about the amazing visuals. Pixar has one-upped themselves yet again. An awesome amount of work must have gone into this movie. The locations are amazing and vast. The animation itself is complex and there’s a lot of it. It’s beautiful.
WALL-E himself is a great character with a lot of heart. He’s the most human character which is an infectious trait. Beyond the obvious cautionary messages about the dangers of excess is the real message of the movie. Excessive consumerism is driven by selfishness and the antidote to selfishness is sacrificial love. WALL-E’s curiosity, innocence, and selflessness give him the ability to love and he passes that knowledge on to directive-focused robots and self-absorbed humans alike.
Unfortunately, the very end of the movie keeps me from giving it five stars. Without giving anything away: too many movies have a strictly happy or sad ending. WALL-E nearly found that sacred middle ground called bittersweet, but they slapped me and my personal preferences in the face with a cheap movie trick instead.
That’s my biggest gripe. So while WALL-E is not a five-star dish like last year's Ratatouille, it’s an above-average Pixar movie and is certainly the best film I’ve seen this year… so far.
Highlights: stunning visuals, WALL-E’s characterization, Oscar-worthy sound design
Disappointments: ending uses trite movie trick, unnecessary usage of "Also sprach Zarathustra"
Best Line: “I don’t want to survive. I want to live!”
Recommendation: If you tend to like Pixar movies: see it. If not, what’s wrong with you?