I think I’ve discovered at least one of the secrets of Pixar’s inexplicably consistent excellence. Many movies are so desperately eager to dazzle us visually, put their technical prowess on display, that they lose sight of anything resembling story. Pixar seems to wade into each project with supreme confidence in their ability to provide a feast for our eyeballs. This self-assuredness allows them to focus on details like story and character, things that turn a mere lightshow into an enchanting narrative and even help it transcend the boundary into art.
After years of thinking there was no way that Pixar could possibly top their latest achievement, I’ve given up thinking that, although surpassing WALL-E will be the supreme test of their filmmaking. This is, quite simply, an out-of-the-park home run.
So confident are they in their ability that they have no qualms about giving us a movie where more than thirty minutes pass without a single sentence of human speech. The film’s brilliant, wordless opening introduces us to WALL-E, a mobile trash compactor who has spent the last 700 years on a deserted Earth cleaning up the mess humans left behind. He used to be part of an army of such machines but he’s the last one of his kind. His former compadres are nothing but a source of spare parts to keep WALL-E running.
Centuries of isolation and toil have left the little robot with a series of software glitches that add up to an endearing personality. WALL-E is a mechanical packrat who picks over the ruins for Zippo lighters, Rubik’s cubes, Hello Dolly videotapes, forks and spoons (He doesn’t quite know what to do with a spork, however). His only friend is an impossibly cute and expressive cockroach who is the only sign of life, at least until WALL-E discovers a tiny plant in the wasteland, a lone speck of green in the vast sea of gray and brown.
Into this world, a giant spacecraft lands and drops a new presence. EVE is as sleek as WALL-E is utilitarian, looking like a floating iPod. She’s more like a heavily-armed floating iPod with a hair trigger. Despite nearly being vaporized several times, WALL-E is smitten. His timorous courtship of EVE is when this movie steps past endearing into pure magic. Forging a sweet romance out of two mechanical contrivances with limited expression and almost no speech shouldn’t work at all, much less work this well.
Their relationship peaks when WALL-E makes a gift out of the plant he found. As it turns out, this is exactly what EVE was looking for. She scarfs up the plant, goes into hibernation and phones home. When the mothership comes to pick her up, WALL-E is desperate to stay with her and hitches a ride. He is taken back to the Axiom, a giant spaceship that is the new home of the human race.
Humanity has not fared well in 700 years. They have been reduced to rotund blobs of apathy that do nothing but watch TV and eat. Their blubbery bodies ride around all day on floating barcaloungers as every need is met by some machine or another. The adults resemble nothing less than giant babies, even taking all of their meals from adult-sized sippy-cups.
For all of its simplicity, WALL-E deals with some pretty heady and complex themes, mostly do with taking responsibility for our own destiny and appreciating what we have before it’s gone. This is definitely a film that can be appreciated by adults as much as their kids, perhaps more so. Younger children might get squirmy during the extended, dialogue-free opening act, but they also might be as enchanted as you will be.