This charming, delightful film about a future abandoned earth, and a schlub of a working-class robot janitor remains one of Pixar’s best.
I’m a huge fan of Pixar’s films, some more than others. I am especially fond of their science fiction stories. The Incredibles is one of my all-time favorites, but after recently revisiting WALL-E, I realized I have probably watched it more often than others. It is remarkably charming, delightful, and fun. Directed by Andrew Stanton, this computer-animated film is something exceptional.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to talk and elaborate a little about the things I love about this movie. On the surface, it’s a love story and romantic comedy about a lonely robot left to clean up the mountains of trash. Careless humanity, in a frenzy of consumerism gone wild, has left behind on the now-abandoned earth, now incapable of supporting life. Beyond that, it’s a tale of salvation. Maybe redemption is within reach as it develops into an adventure story spanning the galaxy and a story of technology out of control.
Humanity became complacent and forgot an essential idea about taking care of what you have, or you might lose it. Seven hundred years before we joined the story, what remained of the population left the planet and began drifting through space aboard a gigantic automated spaceship designed to resemble a cruise ship named Axiom. Here the remaining population has become even more complacent, fat, lazy, and dependent on the technology that has come close to making it slaves of convenience and entertaining distractions. Ideas that seem all too similar to the world we live in today.
We first meet Wall-E as he goes about these duties cleaning up the trash-filled, barren planet, picking up trash, and compacting it into stackable cubes by way of a trash compactor integrated into this design. He is the last of his kind and somewhat old-fashioned. There are mountains of these cubes everywhere, and the little robot goes about his daily routine accompanied by a cockroach that has adopted him and serves as a sort of pet. He carries a lunchbox to collect items that interest him even though he doesn’t understand their purpose or function; He has a massive collection of this junk he keeps in the big metal hanger he calls home. The now barren planet also has occasional substantial dust storms that keep life exciting and make survival a little more complicated.
His design is a remarkably clever and efficient one. Wall-E is sturdy and modular by design, so it is easy to repair. His appearance is pragmatic, no bells and whistles, just built to carry out his tasks and be capable of repairing himself. He is a cube with threads where legs and feet would be, provided for motivation, and clamp-like claws for hands at the end of his arms. His design is modeled after the human form. His head is capable of 360 degrees of movement. It is composed of two “eyes” that bear a strong resemblance to a pair of binoculars, with each side having some small degree of the ability to move independently of the other. He can retract this “head” inside his body when needed, for example, when he is frightened or in sleep mode. He has no face. But is capable of expressing a wide range of reactions and emotions through body language and robotic sounds.
The little guy is capable of being frightened and more. He’s also capable of dreaming, wanting, and longing for more in his life. He longs for companionship and affection, expressed in his obsession with a video he has and often watches. A clip from an old movie (Hello Dolly) depicting people dancing and singing also includes a romantic scene of a couple holding hands while walking together. Wall-E dreams of a life where he can experience such things. This depiction of Wall-E as a working-class everyman makes him a universal stereotype almost anyone can sympathize with, identify, or relate to. He is most of us after childhood dreams have gotten replaced by the realities of a life reduced to a routine existence.
One day soon after we have been introduced to our hero, something occurs that changes everything. A probe ship arrives and dispatches a very advanced model robot designed to explore and scout the planet, searching for signs of life. Her designation is Eve, and she is way out of Wall-E’s class. Sleek in design and capable of effortless flight, she is almost the opposite of the little janitor-bot. She is also armed with a blaster capable of great destruction and is a little trigger-happy. She blasts her surroundings at the slightest provocation as she goes about her search.
Wall-E is smitten at once and thinks he has experienced a visitation by an angel. He timidly tracks her movements and comes close to being destroyed by the heavenly creature more than once, and briefly, it looks like the answer to his dreams may be the instrument of his destruction.
He manages to survive, and they finally become acquainted. Eve finds him amusing in a condescending sort of way. Eve is the princess to Wall-E’s frog and he has little chance of turning into a prince. They are worlds apart. Worlds that have little chance of ever growing closer, when at that moment a dust storm arrives, and he takes her to his shelter to save her from the storm. Wall-E begins to show her his collection and shows her the video that is the source of his dreams of companionship and romance. Then he shows her a small living plant he had found the day before and everything changes. Eve goes crazy in response to the plant and goes into an alert mode that signals the ship she emerged from that she has found evidence of life in the barren world. The ship returns to collect her, and Wall-E, desperate to not lose his new acquaintance, follows clamped onto the probe as it departs for outer space.
Their arrival on the Axiom is noteworthy. The ship is an amazingly complex automated system of multiple machines that go about their duties smoothly and efficiently, each in harmony with the others. Wall-E doesn’t fit into this perfect automated world and his presence has the effect of creating chaos out of order. The ship has a plethora of robots that rivals the Star Wars assortment of mechanical devices. it is a marvelous aspect of the film, and delightful to behold.
Once on the ship the plant’s presence, along with Wall-E, creates a series of events that quickly escalates into a very amusing story development, including a near riot by some repair shop mechanical misfits that escape as a result of Wall-E’s arrival. There is a robot overlord of sorts designated AUTO (short for autopilot) who’s programming makes him determined to maintain the status quo on the ship, and he plots to hide the truth about the plant’s existence and destroy it. He leads a mutiny by his staff of robot police but is resisted by the ship’s human captain, who in a climactic confrontation with it. shuts AUTO down.
The plant is introduced into the ship’s system and in response, the ship returns to earth, but Wall-E is nearly destroyed in his efforts to help Eve and the captain regain control. As soon as the ship lands on earth Eve rushes him to Wall-E’s bunker and she repairs him, and the movie ends on a hopeful note of a second chance for humanity and earth for a better future. This is a wonderful, amusing film that is also a thrilling, satisfying adventure and story of love finally found.