July 3, 2008

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WALL•E (G)
A heart-meltingly adorable big-eyed robot finds true love on a polluted Earth in WALL-E, another lovely, all-the-family-is-entertained animated feature from PIXAR.

Try as you might to steel yourself against the cuteness of the little droopy-eyed trash compactor who calls himself “WALL-E” (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class), I would bet even the most jaded of moviegoers will find himself, in his heart of hearts, going “awwwww.” WALL-E is a good-hearted, curious, friendly little machine who putters around some future garbage-clogged Earth, slowly squishing the old cans, toys, plates and other junk into squares that he piles up into skyscraper-sized block constructions. Along the way he collects the items — a Rubik’s cube, a light bulb, a hub cap that looks a bit like a robot’s version of a straw hat — he finds fascinating and at the end of the day brings them back to his “home,” where he watches a recording of Hello, Dolly! and dreams of holding hands with someone. (Though voiced by Ben Burtt, WALL-E speaks primarily in an emotive language of meeps and computerized approximations of words.) But on the desolate Earth, where WALL-E is the last even of the trash compactors, he has only a cockroach friend to keep him company through the sandstorm-filled nights.

That is until EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) shows up, hatched from a giant fire-spitting spaceship. Where WALL-E is clunky and rather 21st-century-looking (actually, rather 20th-century-looking, really), EVE looks like some futuristic version of a sentient iPod. A hovering white somewhat egg-shaped robot with a digital face, EVE (Elissa Knight speaking a similarly word-light language) rather haughtily ignores WALL-E’s advances until he saves her from a sandstorm. They build something very similar to friendship until EVE suddenly finds the object of her Earthly mission.

We learn a little bit about her mission when we meet the humans on The Axiom, a giant cruise ship-like space craft on which morbidly obese humans float around in chairs drinking their food in shake form and watching ads for virtual products from Buy N Large, the company whose junk and signs we see all over the trash-covered Earth. When Captain (Jeff Garlin) finds out about EVE’s mission, he begins to realize that perhaps this existence of endless leisure is not what humans were meant for.

WALL-E is a love story, it is a story about the nature of humanity, it is a cautionary tale and it is a slapstick-filled caper. It manages to exist on all of these planes at once and additionally to be exceptionally beautiful, a mix of richly colored 3-D animation and fanciful futuristic design. Though it is a cartoon and rated G, WALL-E really does shock you with its depth. The robots have become rather human in their manner and the humans have become simply receptacles for liquid food and non-stop advertising. What does it mean that the first thing the two humans who have their routines shaken by meeting WALL-E do is to make a connection to each other, to (in the very simple but beautiful visual language of this movie) fall in love? What does it mean that a robot yearns (having seen romance via 1950s musical) for connection to another being and that people yearn, perhaps unknowingly, for a connection to Earth? What would we be like as a species adrift in space?

WALL-E allows you to think of all these things while still letting you laugh at WALL-E’s high jinks on discovering a fire extinguisher or at all the chubby-human humor. It is elegant. Though a G-rated movie that your kids will laugh at, WALL-E is the perfect, often wordless distillation of so many core human emotions. It is like a perfect, unadorned piece of sushi — clean, simple, bright and so much more than it appears. A-

Rated G. Written and directed by Andrew Stanton, WALL-E is an hour and 43 minutes long and is distributed by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.