There are kid flicks, and then there are Pixar movies. In the last few years, Disney’s Pixar has managed to reinvent the cartoon, shelving the hand-drawn animation industry in favor of a more and more realistic computer generated characters. Though their last few films have been really, really good, their latest, “WALL-E,” just might be an animation masterpiece. Equal parts environmental cautionary tale, love story and testament to the power of perseverance, it’s a film you should see soon, no matter what your age.
“WALL-E” is the story of an industrious little robot, specifically, a “Waste Allocation Load Lifter — Earth Class.” WALL-E (voiced by Ben Burtt) was once one of an army of sturdy little robots given the job of cleaning up the Earth in the 22nd century. It seems that humans, unable to change their wicked ways, have turned their home planet into one vast garbage dump, all life snuffed out by a toxic and impenetrable cloud of greenhouse gas. While the humans fled to the stars on vast, luxurious space ships, robots like WALL-E were left behind to set things right, crushing the trash into tidy cubes and stacking it into vast mounds. The problem was, the job proved insurmountable even for robots. Seven hundred years later, WALL-E — who has, over time, developed both a quirky personality and the ability to fix himself using parts from his fallen comrades — is still at work, living in a ruined city and spending his days sorting through the garbage. Then, after centuries of sameness, something new happens. A spaceship lands, and a new, sleeker, trigger-happy robot named EVE is dispatched. With her help, WALL-E is able to leave Earth and find a new mission: to save mankind from itself and lead them home.
A simply lovely film, “WALL-E” is pretty much a silent movie for the first 30 minutes. Even so, our little hero-bot turns out to be more expressive and charming than a troupe of voiced actors. He keeps a cockroach for a pet. In the broken down transport truck he calls home, he collects things he finds in the mountains of trash — spare parts for himself, but also the mysterious castoffs of the human creators: Zippo lighters, rubber ducks, Frisbees, hubcaps. On a repaired iPod (one of the many nods to Apple Computers in the film), WALL-E keeps running a continuous loop of “Showboat,” mimicking the dancers’ steps. Played against a stunningly somber and intricately realized world of decayed skyscrapers and towering pyramids of trash, it’s nothing short of beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that it’s almost a shame when EVE’s spaceship arrives and breaks the heartbreaking solitude.
Though the remainder of “WALL-E” never manages to match the loveliness and power of that lonely beginning, it’s still one heck of a film, easily one of the best Pixar has ever made. Moving and emotional, it’s a must-see on the big screen. Catch it while you can.