Cast: Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin, Ben Burtt, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy
Director: Andrew Stanton
By Gregg Tubbs
WALL•E is the best film of the year so far. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I can talk a little bit about why critics are calling Pixar/Disney’s WALL•E a masterpiece and a transcendent a work of art.
Although WALL•E is the product of the most advanced animation technology and is set in a future dominated by technology, it is really a film about magic: The magic of love, the majesty of creation, the mysteries of the soul and the joy of finding one’s true purpose. I predict that WALL•E will be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, not just Best Animated Feature. It’s just that good.
WALL•E grabs you from the beginning, not with action but with revelation. Zooming in on a planet, we see a city that looks eerily like Manhattan. A cheery song from an old musical wafts through the air. Yet something is wrong. Gradually you realize that many of the majestic skyscrapers are actually towering mounds of compacted garbage. And scuttling below, we finally meet WALL•E, short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter — Earth Class. He’s a cleanup robot, essentially a rolling trash compactor, left by the last residents of earth to clean up the planet while they left on an intergalactic holiday. WALL•E is a story of hope and irrepressible optimism set in a post-apocalyptic earth.
It’s been 700 years since the inhabitants of earth left their toxic planet, and this plucky, binocular-eyed robot has been dutifully compacting and stacking the very garbage that choked the earth and left it uninhabitable. When part of him wears out, he just cannibalizes parts from one of the thousands of long dead compactor bots that also litter the city. There is something both endearing and profoundly melancholic about this adorable little guy stoically continuing to do his job, accompanied by his only friend, an apparently indestructible cockroach who survives on 700-year-old Twinkies.
But something remarkable has happened. After centuries of digging through humanity's trash, WALL•E has developed a bit of a soul and a deep curiosity about those who left these wondrous things behind. He collects his treasures, but his prized possession is a VHS tape of Hello Dolly. He plays it over and over, particularly the scenes of lovers holding hands, until he too longs for someone to hold his little metal hand. This lonely little robot yearns for a soul mate, and his wish is answered by the arrival of a sleek, decidedly feminine robot named EVE ((Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) who is on a mission to find any signs of plant life on the desolate earth. A sweet, awkward romance kindles between the two robots; and when they discover an actual living plant, their course is set to save humanity from its space-bound limbo.
WALL•E is truly fearless filmmaking, challenging its audience with a first half that is essentially a silent film. But director Stanton knows what he’s doing, because his Chaplinesque little hero doesn’t need words to touch us, inspire us and teach us about heroism, friendship and love. There’s also something deeply contemplative — even spiritual — about WALL•E’s time alone, trying to understand humanity and his own need for companionship. And when the action moves from the earth to the cosmos, the majesty and beauty of creation is awe-inspiring. The film even pulls off a daring dance sequence.
Couched in all this imagination, humor and pathos is a sobering message about reckless consumerism, about earth hopelessly buried in humanity’s own waste, and about the relative lack of will to make changes. In this future, people have devolved into helpless, pudgy dumplings waited on hand and foot by servant robots. For 700 years, they have lived aboard an interstellar cruise ship run by the omnipresent Buy n’ Large corporation, the same company that greedily stoked the public’s ravenous consumerism. Despite this dire view of the earth's potential future, WALL•E is a story of hope. If the last robot on earth can find love and the key to earth’s renewal, then surely there's hope that humanity can rise to the challenge and restore earth to the green, life-sustaining home that God intended.