WALL·E is Pixar’s most overtly political film, but more impressive than its ecologically minded message is its modestly profound portrait of loneliness, obligation and the desire for reciprocated affection. On an abandoned future Earth – its skyscrapers standing alongside towers of garbage, its horizon mucked up by endless fast food billboards, and its dusty atmosphere cluttered by defunct satellite detritus – the clean-up job has been left to a series of small trash compactor robots, of which there remains only one operating model. His name is WALL·E, a 700-year-old invention that rolls about deserted streets performing his preprogrammed duty with his lone friend, a small bug, and collecting interesting debris from the society that long since abandoned its birthplace. In his home/shop, WALL·E repairs himself with spare parts from fellow ‘bots, organizes his stash of knickknacks, and watches Hello Dolly, dancing in time with the movie’s stars and pining, sorrowfully, for another sentient creature to romantically hold his hand. He’s an artificial mechanism with a beating heart, his bond to humanity and its world evidenced by his construction – he recycles man’s garbage by physically inserting it into his chest cavity – his nightly habit of rocking himself to sleep, and his droopy, soulful eyes.
WALL·E’s solitary existence is forever shattered by the appearance of Eve, a sleek white female robot with an iPod exterior – a nod, along with WALL·E’s “on” chime, to Apple – and a no-nonsense attitude backed up by a massive gun blaster. In its initial half-hour, encompassing WALL·E’s day-to-day routine and his life-changing encounter with Eve, Andrew Stanton’s film proves to be a largely silent affair marked by the type of graceful, expressive visual storytelling that hasn’t been seen in a children’s film since the days of Snow White. It’s a daring gambit in this age of bigger-faster-louder family entertainment, and though this approach will likely challenge very young viewers, WALL·E’s opening passages boast a warm, delicate artistry that’s simply masterful. Stanton’s gorgeously animated directorial follow-up to Finding Nemo compassionately and powerfully establishes its pint-sized protagonist’s circumstances and emotional longing, such that when the automaton braves a fierce lightening storm to hold an umbrella over an immobilized Eve – who enters a state of suspended shutdown after receiving, from WALL·E, a rare valuable living plant growing in a dingy shoe filled with soil – the film achieves a stunning measure of poignancy.
WALL·E is a receptacle and guardian of human history, a being who understands – despite its glaring failings – modern civilization’s unique beauty. And via his subsequent adventure aboard the intergalactic cruise ship The Axiom upon which people now reside, he also becomes its hero. In space, people have been reduced to fat, slothful idiots who are shuttled to and fro in hoverchairs (replete with projection screens used for communication and entertainment purposes) by computers designed by Earth’s big business-cum-government Buy-N-Large. Pointing the finger for man’s devolution at submission and obedience to corporate interests, and censuring our environmental neglect, WALL·E is stingingly critical. Its political consciousness, however, never morphs into a sermon, its argument in favor of individuality, of possessing a larger awareness about the world in which one resides, always intrinsically grafted to WALL·E’s relatable yearning for companionship. Requirements to provide last-act good-vs.-evil action set pieces – which come equipped with amusing 2001 allusions – are respectfully carried out. Yet this animated marvel is most epic when operating on a small, personal scale, ultimately earning its esteemed place in the Pixar canon not only through top-notch CG, expertly orchestrated chase sequences, and provocative pro-green viewpoints, but also through its depiction of love’s capacity for making us more than what we might otherwise be.