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Disney's Wall E anything but mechanical
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Film Critic

An abandoned robot may be the key to saving the Earth in the Walt Disney/PIXAR animated comedy film "WALL•E."

 

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Published: 6/26/2008 12:06 AM

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Walt Disney creates its own "2001: A Space Odyssey" with this breathtaking, spectacular Pixar computer-animated feature.

In fact, it would be totally appropriate to call "WALL•E" a visionary work by director Andrew Stanton and his hugely talented staff.

"WALL•E" is visually light years ahead of Pixar's last movie, the wonderful and witty "Ratatouille," and it raises the bar for animated "acting" by forcing animators to tell most of this futuristic story without dialogue.

Like many of the great science fiction movies, "WALL•E" presents a thought-provoking, imaginative vision of the future, albeit a comical, Disneyized one with cute and cuddlesome robots substituting for the usual cute and cuddlesome talking animals.

In 2700 A.D., a last remaining WALL•E unit (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) still continues to pack up and compress the garbage of Earth, abandoned 700 years earlier by humans who moved into the giant space vessel Axiom while the planet was cleaned up.

Over the centuries, the little guy (resembling the droid from "Short Circuit") has developed a curious and childlike personality. WALL•E loves to play the musical "Hello Dolly!" while saving and sorting earthly artifacts. The robot's only companion is a lovable cockroach Hal (named both for the "2001" computer and for legendary Hollywood producer Hal Roach). Hal proves to be as indestructible as a virus.

One day, WALL•E's world gets rocked by the arrival of a sleek, streamlined 1950s-style rocket. It lands and dispatches a shiny modular droid called EVE (Extra-Terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), which sets about looking for plant life and blasting anything that looks dangerous. Like WALL•E.

The rusty, lonely robot falls for the polished EVE with the pulsating blue "eyes" just in time for her/it to find a single piece of vegetation, signifying that Earth is making a comeback. Accompanied by a stowaway WALL•E, EVE's ship returns to the Axiom.

This is where "WALL•E" presents a comically bleak, yet plausible scenario of future humans, whose robot-aided existence has turned them all into chubby little Weebles figures. With stubby legs and arms, the tubby humans live in a virtual universe surrounded by holograph computer screens. They don't even know they have a swimming pool.

The story, from Stanton and Peter Docter, tackles a laundry list of themes, including dutiful routine vs. (literally) thinking out of the box. There's a marvelous homage to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" when WALL•E incites a revolt of the robot rejects stuck in their own ward. The story's nemesis, Auto the Axiom's autopilot system, is anything but automatic, and is cleverly modeled after a classic ship steering wheel.

Ben Burtt, the super sound effects wizard of "Star Wars" fame, supplies WALL•E's quirky sonic mutterings. Elissa Knight imbues EVE with an emerging compassion. Jeff Garlin brings a comic touch to the Captain, the Axiom's bored-to-death skipper. Sigourney Weaver voices the computer aboard the Axiom.

"WALL•E" has a sharp, distinctive look, based on artwork and conceptions from 1970s sci-fi movies. It's only regrettable that it plays the familiar theme from "2001," "Also Spracht Zarathustra."

Presumably, this was intended to be a tribute to Stanley Kubrick's classic. Instead, it comes off as an audio cliché for cheap and obvious laughs, and adds nothing to the film's staggering inventiveness.

"Wall•E"

Rating: 4 stars

Starring (voices): Ben Burtt, Sigourney Weaver, Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger.

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Other: A Walt Disney Pictures release. Rated G. 97 minutes.