Animated film (2008). Pixar/Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Andrew Stanton, starring Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight and Jeff Garlin. Screenplay by Stanton and Jim Reardon, based on a story by Stanton and Pete Docter. 95 minutes. Colour.
On the page it sounds implausibly avant-garde: a love story between two Robots aimed at children and told through mime. On the screen it was a stunning critical and commercial success, won an Oscar and both a Hugo and a Nebula, and is widely seen as one of the best science fiction films of the early twenty-first century. Seven hundred years after humanity has emigrated from Earth due to an Ecological Disaster, WALL-E and an indestructible cockroach are the only life remaining on the Pollution-tainted planet. He is the last Earth-class Waste Allocation Load Lifter, cannibalizing parts from his broken brothers to keep fulfilling his directive: compacting rubbish into cubes and stacking them into vast termite-mound skyscrapers. WALL-E's routine is interrupted by the arrival of EVE, a sleeker, far more advanced robot, sent to Earth to see if it has become habitable. Initially hostile then merely implacable, they touchingly manage to form a relationship but she then goes into pre-programmed hibernation on discovering plant life. WALL-E follows her into space, where the two must re-unite and act as Adam and Eve for a new generation of humans on Earth. To achieve this they need to overcome the inertia of a generation ship (> Generation Starships) that has undergone Devolution to become entirely reliant on Machines. Assisted by a ragtag army of defective machines which echo the broken toys of Toy Story (1995), they triumph over the antagonist AI AUTO. The humans – even the figurehead captain (Garlin) who learns how to actually lead – are incidental.
The film opens with a tour of the solar system set to optimistic strains of "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" from the 1969 film musical Hello, Dolly!, powerfully capturing a Sense of Wonder for the stars. The first line of dialogue is not until five minutes into the film and takes the form of a public information film laying out the back story for the viewer; before the first line that is actually spoken, another 33 minutes pass. The reliance instead on body language and snippets of older music – such as the recurring motif of Hello, Dolly! and Louis Armstrong's rendition of "La Vie En Rose" – gives the film space to imbue the pair of tiny, virtually silent beings with souls. It is this, rather than the cleverly worked-through plot or somewhat heavy-handed Satire on consumerism, that makes the film such a triumphant piece of cinema. [ML]
see also: Cinema; Children's SF.
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