It makes absolute sense that the same film studio who brought toys to life when no one else was looking and made a street rat the best fine dining chef in Paris, among others, the next addition to their arsenal of unlikely heroes would be a futuristic trash compactor tasked with cleaning up the uninhabitable mess humankind would leave behind while simultaneously saving humanity. Opening on a deserted planet overrun with trash, the not-so-subtle subtext co-writer and director Andrew Stanton was going for made its point abundantly clear. As the narrative picks up steam, that point becomes the center of attention, taking over for the sweetness that started out.
Once the Pixar logo flashes and the powered lamp smothers the ‘I’, a profound and visual spectacle is expected by this point and once again, with the 9th film titled Wall-E, Pixar delivers on what is promised. Sometime in the future, 700 years into the 22nd century and the only beings left on earth are cockroaches and Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Edition aka Wall-E (voiced by Ben Burtt) devices. Day after day, week after week, and month after month, Wall-E recharges its battery by solar means, uses its wheels to zoom around the deserted landscape to compact trash left by humankind into a cube and stacks them in shapes of skyscrapers.
Sweeping shots by cinematographers Jeremy Lansky and Danielle Feinberg highlight cities full of these cubes as tall as the wind turbines that were too late being installed to save the once populated planet. Co-written by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon with a story conceived by Stanton and Pete Doctor, Wall-E dazzles in its scope with the titular character mostly being non-verbal. Aside from speaking its own name and a few other choice words, the beauty of the character comes with its expressions and reactions to the world around it. A sense of innocence and child-like wonder will both attract viewers young and old.
The same way Pixar can animate a rat to be the best little chef through taste and scent almost popping off the screen, Wall-E’s eyes are the main draw to the character. Big, bashful and mechanical, the eyes say more than Wall-E ever could. One move and the trash compactor becomes a memorable and relatable character we all can see a bit of ourselves in. That’s the beauty of Pixar’s unlikely heroes – each in adamant object, furry and scaley friends, machines and scary monsters are given humanity to them, making them the best parts of us and who we strive to be.
After some time on earth, making cubes of garbage and sorting them, a spaceship comes down to earth and releases a probe that Wall-E is obsessed with. The probe, named Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator aka EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight) continuously scans the earth for signs of life, and when Wall-E finds the courage to interact with EVE, the two become instantly 1. One simply cannot survive without the other. Their friendship that quickly turns to a deep admiration for one another is simply beautiful and astoundingly sincere. Wall-E and EVE, two robotic beings we didn’t know we needed until they met one another.
Coming in at a favorable and compact 97 minutes, the first act, full of charm and breathtaking sweetness transitions into what the remainder of the story would be plot-wise. In some way, subduing the relationship and focus solely of Wall-E and EVE hurts the film because the two are so endearing – the addition of more robots in acts 2 and 3 convolute the precious time we have with the Wall-E and EVE.
Like the films that came before, an emphasis is placed on the visual spectacle of this post-apocalyptic world. With minimal dialogue added between robots and later on the humans, Pixar continues to outdo itself with the improvements to the technology. To date, Wall-E is the best this animation style has looked – space is crisp, stars shine bright, and the emotion is brought out flawlessly between the characters. At one point, during the beginning of act 2, Wall-E is ejected into space from the Axiom, the ship that has housed humans for the past 700 years, 695 years after the initial mission was established by president and owner of Buy n Large Shelby Forthright (Fred Willard, the only live action actor). Once ejected, Wall-E uses ingenuity to propel through space with a fire extinguisher while EVE races out to save Wall-E. It’s a sequence like no other in the film, animated with a lifelike touch to it.
When it comes to the villain of the story, there are two. One more prominent than the other. The one in the foreground is AUTO, short or autopilot (voiced by MacInTalk, the text-to-speech program in Mac computers) only obeying directive A113 keeping the humans aboard the Axiom, lazy, obese, docile, dependent, and preoccupied with tiny screens and Buy n Large products. The code for the directive comes by way of an inside joke – something John Lasseter, Brad Bird and other alumni joke and reference in other films.
Wall-E works on every imaginable level, starting strong and never once losing its momentum through acts 2 and 3. Though it may stumble, by a step or two, Andrew Stanton never loses control of his film. As a sci-fi genre film, Wall-E features many different dimensions, themes and messages. The most under-appreciated one is that of hope. Hope that as humans, we can see the error in our ways, making changes before time runs out and it’s too late. Animation aside, Wall-E is a remarkable piece of storytelling that highlights friendship, love and the ability to see the best humanity has to offer.
Screenplay By: Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon
Story By: Andrew Stanton & Pete Doctor
Directed By: Andrew Stanton
Music By: Thomas Newman
Cinematography: Jeremy Lasky & Danielle Feinberg
Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger, Sigourney Weaver, Fred Willard
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: June 27, 2008,
Running Time: 1 Hour 37 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%