An amazing thing about Pixar movies, to me, is that... none of them look all that good to me when they're first announced. Oh, sure, they LOOK good, but they don't immediately ever appear to be really good movies before they come out. Let's see... outdated toys like a wooden cowboy and a space ranger? Okay. Insects attempting to come into their own and joining the circus? All right. Monster powering their city with the screams of little children? Well... A full lenth feature about the case of a missing guppy? Hmmmm... An overweight superhero trying to raise his kids in the suburbs? Really? An anthropomorphic NASCAR getting lost and playing Doc Hollywood? Dude! A bunch of RATS in the KITCHEN... preparing food? That's just... that's...
Still, every single time, Pixar manages to deliver and their films are always incredible time and time again. By the time WALL·E, the story of a trash compacting robot living on a post-apocalyptic Earth, was announced, I just went with the flow and accepted that yes, this one too is going to be great. And it is.
While the fact that WALL·E is great is no real surprise, it should be noted that WALL·E is quite possibly Pixar's riskiest film to date. We're talking about a movie that depicts a lonely robot with only a cockroach for a friend dutifully compacting garbage into little cubes day in and day out on planet Earth centuries after humans left en masse because there was too much trash. Did I mention there is virtually no dialogue in the first half and very little in the whole movie, truth to tell? Can you believe that even with these elements, the film is still kid-friendly?
Of course, it helps that the title character of WALL·E himself is endearing as can be. With his curious eyes and stalwart nature, even in the face of an impossibly daunting task, the kid is just a joy to watch. Helping writer/ director Andrew Stanton bring WALL·E to life is the voice of none other than Ben Burtt. Yes, Ben Burtt, as in the sound designer behind Star Wars (I - VI), all the Indiana Jones flicks, Munich, Droids and, yes, WALL·E, in his first ever credited role as an actor (though he does carry a couple of uncredited appearances in two Star Wars Flicks).
Through a series of beautiful (if bleak) visuals (some even - wow - Live Action), we learn that somewhere around a hundred years from now (and long before the events of this picture), Earth becomes essentially a consumers paradise in a throw-away society. So bad does the garbage problem become that mankind flees Earth for the stars, leaving behind their WALL·E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth Class) units to clean the place up. Both the solution and the problem is a mega corporation called "Buy And Large" (BnL) who over-sells conveniences, creates the litter problems, creates the robots tasked with cleaning it all up and creates the ships to leave Earth in. We learn a good bit of this from Shelby Forthright, the BnL CEO played by Fred Willard, whom we see in a few recorded Live Action (though digitally rendered by Industrial Light & Magic) archival sequences. Wall-E finds the best in his situation. He gets excited over finding random trinkets, and although they are mostly garbage and junk by normal standards, he gives them new life. In his positive demeanor you feel for him. You're hoping that Wall-E finds more bots or people or Busy Bee Cleaning Services to hang out with or help him, someone or something to help fill the void of being a lonely waste allocator.
Sadly, all that was seven hundred years before the events depicted in WALL•E. Now out of the hundreds of Waste Allocation Load Lifters that started the job, only one is left to finish it all... and over the past few centuries he's gotten a little eccentric and developed a bit of a personality. WALL•E has an affinity for old Musicals (specifically Hello Dolly). To entertain himself he has ported an old VCR through an old iPod into an old Television set in his converted trash truck lair. He's also collected as many items as he can to keep himself occupied at night, such as a hubcap he can use as a hat prop, a Rubik's Cube and a few shiny things that, well, he just likes. The first fourth of the film essentially details WALL•E in a series of informative but hilarious sight gags evoking memories of some of the best classic physical comedians (imagine Buster Keaton morphing into Johnny 5 from Short Circuit).
Everything changes for our rickety, rusty robot and his roach when a sleek, new rocket ship arrives with one of those new-fangled floating Robots on a survey mission. This shiny new visitor is polished to a reflective luster, has big blue eyes and floating arms, fingers and more. WALL•E, who watches her from afar, is immediately smitten. Let's hope she likes older men. Actually WALL•E had better REALLY hope she likes older men, seeing as how this visitor named EVE (the Extra-Terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator voiced by Elissa Knight) has a tendency to vaporize anything she deems to be a threat. Luckily for WALL•E (and for us) our boy is a lot of things, but isn't a threat.
If you can imagine what it might be like for two cute robots to court each other on a decimated futuristic cityscape while dancing to musicals to the amusement of a seemingly indestructible cockroach then you probably already work for Pixar. These scenes have no business working quite this well, but they quite simply do. Interestingly, duty and programming are still paramount to both robots, so when WALL•E does what most guys courting cute ladies might do (namely, offer his date a flowering plant of some kind), Eve is forced to return home to her ship, bringing with her the good news that Earth is on its way to sustaining life again.
Of course, lovesick WALL•E can't bear to be without his new love, so he too is soon a passenger on the vast cruise ship Axiom co-mingling with robot and human alike. Of course, by now BnL has helped the human race become a family of lazy, fat virtual-lifers who can barely move except to eat. Lucky for them, every person WALL•E comes into contact with manages to have his or her life improve almost immediately, from Kathy Najimy's Mary to John Ratzenberger's John to even the ship's Captain (voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin).
Where can WALL•E (the robot and the movie) go from there? Well, it's touching, exciting, funny, deeply metaphorical, occasionally sad and bleak... and always entertaining. It's also a stunningly beautiful movie. I don't just mean in the animation... though that is absolutely perfect (watch the reflective surfaces for a wonderful example of this). The real beauty of WALL•E is more than just the pictures on the screen, it's the heart Andrew Stanton (and co-writer Jim Capobianco) put into this great screenplay. The characterizations of these strange little Robots make this movie wonderful. WALL•E's curious eyes and trembling nervousness juxtaposed with Eve's confidence and evolving emotion are fantastic, as are all the other little quirks in both living and mechanical characters. WALL•E tends to steal his own show here, bringing us a character the audience can't help but to love and root for. He's cute without any real facial expression, but more than just this, his mannerisms and eccentricities make for a well-rounded, comical character at once the romantic leading man and his own comic foil. Eve, too, turns a heroic leaf here and there and is constantly watchable as are the ship's autopilot Auto and the frantic Microbe Obliterator M-O (Burtt again).
True, the messages here aren't that subtle, but they're wrapped in such an exciting and engrossing entertainment package that they never feel heavy handed or preachy. Is WALL•E for everyone? Well, it's for most everyone. Some of the littler kids might get bored with the lack of dialogue and disturbed by some of the explosions that take place in the first half of the film. Further, the unconventional story found here might puzzle a couple of audience members. Fans of films like The Iron Giant, Animalympics and Monsters, Inc. should be touched and excited by this movie. Science Fiction fan or not, the pure romance, character development and emotional impact of WALL•E make this one a winner... and only the latest of many from Disney and Pixar.
As with all Pixar theatrical releases, WALL•E was presented with a Pixar Animated Short film, this time writer/ director Doug Sweetland's Presto. This is a hilarious five-minute depiction of a stage magic show by famed magician Presto who has two incredible magic hats and one temperamental (and hungry) little white rabbit that he only wants to pull out of his hat for the amusement of his audience. The bunny himself has other plans... plans that might remind one of the very best of the old Looney Tunes shorts of the past. Presto is an absolute laugh riot and a treat for the eyes, fully worth, like WALL•E, the full FIVE STARS out of Five! Yes, folks, whether it's pulling a rabbit out of a hat or just cleaning up at the end of a long Century, Pixar has had, does have and will have a way with taking small ideas and making them into incredible movie magic. WALL•E and Presto, whether or not they sound like good ideas on paper, are great films. Yes... they've still got that magic. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading for the gym... then I'm going to clean up around here. I just feel a little inspired.