What a wonderful world
“WALL-E” imagines. That might seem odd to say about a movie that is set, at least initially, on the post-apocalyptic compost heap Earth has become after centuries of misuse.
But amid the trash that looms like gloomy monuments to man’s careless legacy, there is hope. That’s where WALL-E comes in.
WALL-E is the last functioning robot on earth, dutifully crunching garbage into tidy cubes. Nobody’s around to appreciate his work — the planet, now thought to be infertile, has been abandoned for years — but what’s a ’bot to do?
The answer is more complicated than one might imagine.
WALL-E has developed a soul behind those melancholy eyes he uses to spot tidbits in the rubble (a Rubik’s cube, a paddle ball) and watch reruns of his favorite musical, “Hello, Dolly!” So it comes as little surprise that he falls for EVE, a sleek scout ’bot with electric-blue eyes, deployed to Earth to find signs of life.
As it happens, one exists, and not just in the heart of our pint-size hero. During his daily routine, WALL-E stumbles upon a growing plant and, after a quizzical stare, scoops it up. EVE, recognizing the bigger picture, snatches it away.
Vegetation is exactly what the human race — relegated to the Axiom, a flying resort in the far reaches of space — has been waiting for to signal that the time is right for a homecoming, and it’s EVE’s job to deliver the good news.
It’s not easy, given the presence of a malevolent mainframe aboard the Axiom (think HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”) who has deemed Earth unfit for human habitation.
But WALL-E, desperate to impress the femme ’bot he romanticizes, hitches a ride into space and plots to save the day.
Director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”) has described “WALL-E” as his attempt to make an R2-D2 movie, but there is an irrepressible humanity in his storytelling that George Lucas should envy. While one might be thrown at first by his approach — the film has little dialogue in the first hour, just beeps, bangs and garbled robot-speak — his ballad of a lonely ’bot is utterly engrossing.
It’s also a sign of how far animation has come. “WALL-E” isn’t quite like anything you’ve ever seen before — its lovingly detailed universe recalls the visual grandeur of “2001,” “Blade Runner” and “Tron” — but its backdrops are breathtaking in their realism.
WALL-E, in all his innocence, is perhaps the film’s greatest achievement, a robot whose glassy eyes and tiny, sometimes heartbroken voice convey as much emotion as any man’s could.
There is real poignancy in his story, both a space-age adventure and a classic romance. Each is compelling. The result is a wondrous work of the imagination and, to date, the year’s best film.
WALL-E (4 stars)
Starring Voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger
Written and directed by Andrew Stanton
Running time 1 hour 37 minutes