Not since the death of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn has a sci-fi film truly expressed the emotional state of characters set in the far, far future. Today, on the small screen, at least, the science fiction genre is rich with emotional, compelling stories each week, but the silver screen versions, where two hours are usually devoted to action and “wow” moments, are sometimes lacking in the major development of what it means to be human. What better way to exemplify such a human emotion as love than two robots in Pixar Animation Studio’s latest opus, WALL-E.
The tale of WALL-E is easily Pixar’s most melancholy and glum tale to date, easily surpassing the Disney staple of “your mom is dead, here’s a life lesson” embodied since the release of Bambi. WALL-E is most likely the last surviving, functioning robot of his kind, his primary directive is to gobble up trash in his shell, compact it down into neatly stacked cubes, and await humans to return to Earth after it was polluted and left for dead. However, WALL-E has developed personality, and through repeated watching of his cherished Hello, Dolly! tape, he’s trying to love, although being alone (sans a cockroach friend) makes this difficult.
Enter EVE, the object of WALL-E’s affections throughout the 90 minute tale, EVE was sent from the massive AXIOM spaceship to seek out life on Earth, alerting mankind that the forlorn planet has recovered enough (after 700 years) to support human life again. WALL-E eventually follows EVE back to the AXIOM and becomes a hero for malfunction robots, and a hero for all human kind.
The social undertones of the film are present in the none-too-subtle opening shots of the planet in utter disarray. Stacks of compacted garbage cubes stand taller than the world’s tallest skyscrapers as WALL-E has been busy for 700 years. The oceans have dried up, plant life is near-to-none-existent, and the air is so polluted it makes Los Angeles look like Aspen. While a direct environmental message isn’t beaten into the audience, after all, this is a G-rated family film, the effects of humanities’ gluttony is easy recognizable, and when we are re-introduced to humans aboard the AXIOM, it’s basically what you would expect.
The film itself is a masterpiece of storytelling and art direction with each cog coming together to build a working, magnificent machine, capable of entertaining, saddening, and eventually making you cry with joy as the final act plays out. The beginning 30 minutes of the film are a harkening back to the era of silent films where a character’s actions were representations of the emotions we couldn’t usually see or hear about through dialog. WALL-E and EVE’s interaction, although cold at first, eventually warms up to the point where they are the most human characters in the film, they represent hope in the most dire situations, and for that Pixar and Academy Award-winning director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) has outdone themselves once again.
Just sitting in the theater seeing the once cold EVE replay the recorded memories of WALL-E protecting her after she completed her mission and deactivated was both heartbreaking and uplifting, showing the spirit the little robot had gained from a few pieces of seemingly innocent human culture.The film can bring you to tears, and have you laughing the next minute, a seemingly endless onslaught of emotional impact.
Everything about the film clicks and comes together in one of the best packages Pixar, or anyone else has ever assembled, live action or not. WALL-E is the antithesis of films like The Love Guru where one can proudly say that they have a love affair with cinema and movies that draw you in, and never let you go. Such a proud package has you happy for two animated robots, twice removed from reality, and potentially turning into the most talked about couple of the year.