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Entry updated 23 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Animated film (2008). Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Written by Stanton and Jim Reardon, based on a story by Stanton and Pete Docter. Cast includes Ben Burtt, Jeff Garlin, Elissa Knight, Sigourney Weaver. 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, however, 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 sf films of the early twenty-first century.

Seven hundred years after humanity has emigrated from Earth due to an Ecological Disaster, WALL-E (voice Burtt) and an indestructible cockroach are the only life remaining on the Pollution-tainted Ruined Earth. He is the last intact Earth-class Waste Allocation Load Lifter, cannibalizing parts from his broken brothers to keep fulfilling a doomed centuries-old directive: to compact rubbish into cubes which are then stacked into vast termite-mound skyscrapers, supposedly cleaning the planet of garbage. This grim context does not affect the constant product-placement for Apple computers and iPods.

WALL-E's routine is interrupted by the arrival of EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) (voice Knight), a sleeker, far more advanced robot, sent to Earth to see if it has become habitable. Initially hostile then merely failing to communicate, they eventually and touchingly manage to form a relationship, during which "he" shows "her" a solitary plant he has discovered. Following her programming, she seals the planet within herself and goes into stasis until her ship returns to extract her. 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 infesting Axiom, a generation ship (see Generation Starships) whose inhabitants have undergone Devolution and become entirely reliant on Machines. Assisted by a ragtag army of defective machines which echo the broken toys of Toy Story (1995), and never violate the three Laws of Robotics, they triumph over the antagonist AI AUTO (voice Weaver). The humans – even the figurehead, Captain McRea (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 actual words heard, not until five minutes into the film, take the form of a public information film laying out backstory 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 evocations 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, or the tedious action sequences (including an inevitable raindrops-keep-falling-on-my-head interlude) – that makes the film such a triumphant piece of cinema. [ML/JC]

see also: Cinema; Children's SF.


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