Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Pixar, much like its adopted Japanese sibling Studio Ghibli, has a habit of producing 'critic-proof' animated features – even if, as it happens, critics tend to like them anyway. WALL·E is no exception. A charming pastiche of the whole SF genre, this is a film to appeal to all sexes and ages, with its spectacular mayhem for the boys, its romance for the girls, its cute, wonderfully expressive little robot for the children, and its film references and futurist satire for the adults.

WALL·E is the last of his kind – he is Legend, if you will. A Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class, he is designed to crush piles of trash into stackable cubes, and has been doing this on an abandoned, over-polluted Earth for the last 700 years, using the parts of other, long-since defunct WALL·Es to replenish his own. Over time, he has also developed some quirks: a curiosity about everything, a propensity to collect knick-knacks, a friendship with a cockroach, and an obsession with his old VHS copy of Hello, Dolly!

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Then, into his lonely world, one day the robot probe EVE (an Extra-Terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) comes crashing from space. EVE is everything that WALL·E is not: all curves where he is all angles, agile where he is accident-prone, a modern gal stuck with an old-fashioned guy. It is, at least for lonesome WALL·E, love at first sight, and a chance to recreate sweet romance as envisaged in a musical from the late 1960s – even if the object of his affections is in sleep mode through most of his solicitous attentions.

EVE, however, has a directive to follow, and when she heads back into space with a single sapling found on Earth, WALL·E follows – ending up aboard a one-time cruise ship where obese humans have been dining and reclining for centuries, their every need fulfilled by an army of service robots. WALL·E and the sapling offer hope of return to the long-forgotten home planet, but it is not clear whether the ship's captain or his robotic helm is really in charge.

Much as he has been cobbled together from scrap parts, WALL·E is also an assemblage of previous SF creations: think the chirpy optimism of R2D2 (whose original sound designer, Ben Burtt, here provides the voicework), the binoculars-on-tractor-wheels build of Short Circuit, and the long-necked pathos of E.T., all thrown together with Chaplin's Little Tramp as the ghost in the machine. Although he barely says a word, stunning animation and mechanical moxie have transformed box-'bot WALL·E into a sparky little character with heart and soul. WALL·E the film is also an amalgam of other films' jetsam: a bit of Star Wars here, a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey there, Alien too (with Sigourney Weaver herself voicing the ship's computer), and some Blade Runner, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and A.I., not to mention Battlestar Galactica...

None of this repackaging of SF's cinematic highlights ought to cause too much concern in what is a film that repeatedly demonstrates the importance of compact recycling. Indeed, WALL·E offers a glimpse of a future humanity rendered unenviably supine (in every sense) precisely because it has become trapped in a pattern of constantly drifting forwards without ever looking back – until, that is, WALL·E comes out of the past to give mankind's flabby backside a (re)booting. The past, the film suggests, is what makes us who we are, or at least ought to be, and even WALL·E himself seems to have evolved a personality through watching an old movie in a long-redundant video format. It is, of course, a similar appreciation of cultural history that lends this film, for all its high-tech specs and state-of-the-art CGI, a beating pulse. The folk at Pixar have long known that animated artwork, no matter how impeccably realised, needs a decent narrative to humanise it, a story to bring life to all the toys – and this time Andrew Stanton is retelling no less than the whole of human 'history' (with a twist), from a significant encounter with a giggly (albeit destructive) woman named EVE onwards, as our species, preserved in an airborne ark, gets (another) second chance after a flood of its own making. Rarely has the future looked so nostalgic.

Is it any good? What does it matter? It is critic-proof – and currently placed by users at #6 on IMDb's Top 250 Films (of all time!). It is, however, worth mentioning that the human characters seem less human than the robots – and even if this is for once deliberate, it does make the film's second half (where the humans first appear) drag a bit, especially when the feature has been preceded by the exquisitely madcap pacing of Presto, Pixar's galloping five-minute homage to Looney Tunes-era animation. Still, with WALL·E, it is all about the details, and it is so rich in these that several viewings are unlikely to exhaust the film's possibilities. After all, there are always new treasures to be found in yesterday's discards.

Reviewed on: 01 Jul 2008
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WALL·E packshot
A robot - Wall·E, left alone on Earth begins to explore the cosmos with a companion, the sleek and sultry EVE.
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Read more WALL·E reviews:

Katy Carter *****
Andrew Robertson ****

Director: Andrew Stanton

Writer: Andrew Stanton, Jim Capobianco

Starring: Voices of: Sigourney Weaver, Kathy Najimy, John Ratzenberger, Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin, Paul Eiding, Ben Burtt, Garrett Palmer, Kim Kopf

Year: 2008

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: USA

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