by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & hey just don't know how to make bad movies at Pixar -- well, unless you include the disappointing, practically unwatchable Cars. But even knowing that Cars 2 is in the works for a 2012 release, no damper can be put on this newest entry in exquisite CG animation. It's great-looking, has a wonderful story, works for kids and adults (although some of the philosophical and environmental ideas will swoop right over very young heads), and despite the fact that the lead characters are robots, it's got plenty of heart.
Opening with the happy Hello, Dolly! tune "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," we're quickly set in what appears to be a desolate Manhattan that's been completely overrun by garbage. And though it takes a while to find out, indeed it's the Big Apple, some 700 years from now. But there are no people -- just mountains of trash, and one little tank-treaded robot with a binoculars-like head and "hands" that can sort of clasp each other. This would be a Waste Allocation Load Lifter -- Earth-Class or Wall-E.
The Earthlings left all those centuries ago, boarding huge luxury liner spaceships that would cruise endlessly through the universe, and that's when the trash piles pretty much took over. Little robots were sent in to clean the planet up, under a plan that would someday have the humans return. But when that program failed and ended, clunky little Wall-E was accidentally left behind. All alone now, except for a cockroach pal (yes, even the folks at Disney believe that cockroaches will survive anything), he's still doing his job -- picking it up, compacting, piling.
And he would keep on doing so, but for a big ship descending from the skies and depositing Eve, a slick, cool-looking robot probe (with beautiful blue eyes) who's been sent to survey the scene, to look for any possible life on the Earth.
To lonely Wall-E, she's love at first sight. To Eve, he's a strange object that's to be destroyed, something for her to aim her blasters at and fire. Which she does. Darn good thing she's a bad shot, because in due course, they get together, and Wall-E shows her his etchings -- er, I mean his collections.
It's here that the movie's charm and goofy humor show through. Wall-E has a thing for certain objects. Endlessly sifting through all the garbage, he carefully picks out traffic cones, clocks, rubber ducks and other choice pieces, then neatly files them. He also collects spoons and forks, and, in one of the film's many funny moments, can't quite figure out what to do when he finds a spork.
A gift he gives the now-calm Eve sets the story in motion. He finds a plant growing where no plant has grown. But upon receiving it, Eve goes all weird on him, somehow signaling her ride that it's time to go. But Wall-E sneaks aboard, and the adventure begins.
This is, on many counts, a daring film. It makes sweeping comments about how humans have destroyed the environment. It also manages to get most of its story across without the use of "normal" words. The robots communicate through a series of blips and beeps, sounding very much like R2D2. And though it's impossible to "understand" their language, the robots are very easy to understand.
What's more important is whether or not Wall-E and Eve will have a fine romance. Continuous peeks at Wall-E's old videotape of Hello, Dolly! suggest that's exactly what will happen. A lovely "hand"-holding scene is an even bigger hint.
Co-written and directed by Andrew Stanton, who also made the excellent Finding Nemo, the film doesn't take any easy ways out, and the odd ending, which questions the condition and future of our planet, should provide some good fodder for conversations between parents and kids.
Note: A fantastic and hilarious short film called "Presto" plays before the feature.
Written and directed by Andrew Stanton
Starring the voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Fred Willard and Jeff Garlin