WALL-E, a rickety mechanical janitor whose name is an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class, is the only robot left on a bleak Earth 700 years hence. He spends his days compacting city trash and piling it sky-high. All the humans have long ago moved out in luxury spaceships where they loll in robo-loungers and are attended to by robo-servants. Needless to say, the humans, who are anything but robo, have grown very fat.
"WALL-E" is yet another notch in Pixar's computer-animation belt, and it's one of the better entries, with greater emotional resonance than anything they've done since "Finding Nemo." It's also a marked departure from the look and feel of their other films.
Gone are the celebrity movie star voice dubbers (Sigourney Weaver, in a nod to "Alien," is the only exception). Gone, also, is the bristly comedic irreverence. In fact, much of "WALL-E" plays like a silent film – a Chaplin or Buster Keaton film, to be specific. And that's intentional. Director-screenwriter Andrew Stanton and his Pixar legions have referenced such films as "City Lights" and "Modern Times" and "The Navigator," not simply as a film school exercise but to increase the sentimental resonance of the story and situate it among the classics.
But they don't stop there. Everything from "2001: A Space Odyssey" to "Blade Runner" is also cited, and, most especially, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." With his squat body and big binocular eyes, WALL-E is like a spiritual cousin to E.T. Spielberg's alien, however, didn't have a love interest (except a platonic one). WALL-E has Eve, an egg-shaped bot who drops down to Earth to seek out signs of life.
When WALL-E claps his already wide eyes on her, he's smitten. (No wonder. The only romance he's ever known is endlessly replaying snippets from a videotape of "Hello Dolly.") When Eve heads back into space, WALL-E follows, and gets engulfed in the spaceship of human fatties and their mechanical minions. A more improbable – and improbably poetic – setting for a love story would be hard to find.
The story line for "WALL-E" is probably too convoluted for small kids, and sometimes it suffers from techie overload, but it's more heartfelt than anything on the screens these days featuring humans. Grade: A- (Rated G.)