Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/27/08 00:00:00

"Pixar out-Pixars themselves."
5 stars (Awesome)

If Buster Keaton were a robot, he’d be WALL-E. Maybe Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp better fits the analogy. Or is WALL-E his own man, a marvelously original creation, an everyman android with a lust for life, a child’s innocent curiosity, a knack for starting trouble in all the right places.

The silent star is the lead in Pixar’s latest - and, since the film deserves superlatives, best - animated feature, “WALL-E.” The film is a great risk for the studio generally regarded as the gold standard in modern cartooning; here is a movie that spends its entire first half with almost no dialogue at all, with no first-act exposition, with no human characters to fill the space. And once the humans do arrive, they become the focus for subversive, at times bitterly sly commentary about our current state. It’s a risk that pays off brilliantly, with storytelling that is as fresh as it is funny, as heartwarming as it is innovative. Writer/director Andrew Stanton - who also helmed Pixar’s previous best movie, “Finding Nemo” - here uses few words to make giant entertainment.

Seven hundred years into our future, Earth has long since been abandoned by its inhabitants, who used up every last resource (even the oceans themselves) and left mountains of trash behind. Responsible for the planetary clean-up were an army of droids of the Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth-Class variety. Their job is to scoop up the garbage and crunch it into portable cubes, which are then stacked into massive skyscrapers of rubbish, the last great monuments to the human race’s ego.

As the film opens, only one robot remains: WALL-E. He’s still hard at work, those towers still growing, but he also finds time to feed his curiosity. He collects whatever catches his fancy: cigarette lighters, Rubik’s cubes, hubcaps, all carefully catalogued in his home base, where he also passes the time with an old videotape of “Hello, Dolly!”

Clumsy and curious, WALL-E wins our hearts the moment we see him. The filmmakers provide just the right droop to his eyes, the right lilt to his electronic “voice” (crafted by Ben Burtt, the creator of all the robot and alien voices in the “Star Wars” movies), that we instantly understand his status as the universe’s most huggable robot. (Sorry, Artoo!) Even WALL-E’s cockroach friend becomes adorable.

The plot kicks up when a spaceship mysteriously lands near WALL-E’s home, and out pops an EVE droid - a sleek, futuristic, brand-new model, one that levitates to where WALL-E’s rusty treads cannot take him. Naturally, an old softy like WALL-E falls madly in love with EVE. And given time, she becomes smitten with him, too.

What happens next is best left discovered by the viewer and not ruined here, but I will reveal that humans do eventually enter the picture, and what horrible creatures we have become. Fat and lazy, they zip around in flying Barcaloungers decked out with video monitors, internet and cell phone access, and, of course, cup holders. In one scene, two humans talk to each other via videophone - despite sitting right next to each other.

This is where we’re headed, Stanton warns us. Junk food slobs reliant on a Wal-Mart-esque superchain to provide our every need, hypnotized by the notion of “just don’t worry about it” that we’re blind to everything around us, no matter how wondrous. (Why look out at the beauty of the stars when we can slurp down our Big Gulp?) Complacent. Ignorant. Unconcerned. Welcome to the human race, 28th century edition.

(Must I even mention how perfect the animation is in bringing these ideas to life? The beauty’s in the details, and “WALL-E” is stuffed with them, every nook and cranny of the frame packed with stunning artwork. The crisp separation between dingy old Earth and clean, sleek outer space reveals a world smartly designed down to its core.)

“WALL-E” becomes the legend of how the big-hearted robot releases us from our collective stupor, first by accident, then by design. It’s his innocent anarchy that sets us free. Even his fellow robots, constricted by the rules of this bold new world, learn to shake loose. Ultimately, Stanton refuses to mourn the future, but revel in where it might lead us, if only we allow our hearts and minds to open as wide as WALL-E’s.

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