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With: (voices) Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Jim Capobianco
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 97
Date: 06/27/2008

WALL·E (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Trash Treasure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

To date, my favorite Pixar film is Toy Story 2 (1999) followed by The Incredibles (2004), with all the rest jockeying for third. But now director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) has delivered WALL·E, whose first 60 minutes ranks with the best work Pixar has ever done, but whose final 30 minutes leaves something to be desired. That could still be enough to send it to third place.

The film opens in the future, when piles of garbage have taken over the earth and all the people are gone. WALL·E (voiced by Ben Burtt) is a cleaning robot programmed to mash the garbage into cubes and pile it up. He has apparently been at this for some time; we see piles of cubed garbage as tall as skyscrapers.

He has befriended a cockroach and goes about his day like a human, taking a lunch break and going home at the end of the day to a "house" filled with found treasures. He watches a video of Hello Dolly and realizes that he needs something else in his life: a bit of romance, a hand to hold.

Before long, Eve (voiced by Elissa Knight) arrives; it's her job to locate organic life on the planet (the cockroach doesn't count). WALL·E falls madly in love with her. He takes her back to his place and shows her his treasures, including the bud of a little plant. Upon seeing this, her mission is cut short, and a huge spaceship arrives to pick her up.

Up to this point, the movie gets by on remarkably little dialogue. A few recordings fill us in on the state of the planet, but WALL·E and Eve speak only each other's names. Their vocal tones and the positions of their robotic eyes are the only clue to their emotions, and it works beautifully. Moreover, Stanton has an innate sense of spatial relationships in comedy, and he seems to know always where to put his "camera" for the best laughs.

After a dazzling trip through space, the robots arrive on a kind of intergalactic cruise ship, where the humans have been living for 700 years, waiting for earth to be inhabitable again. Several generations later, the humans have grown fat and lazy, their every need and whim taken care of by computer. They don't even walk anymore; they travel about on floating lawn chairs and speak to each other via computer screen.

This is the part that gets bogged down because it brings up too many unanswered questions. We see babies learning about life on the space station, but how do these lethargic lumps breed? If the space station throws away all its garbage (shown in one sequence), where do all their resources come from?

A few humans (voiced by John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy and Jeff Garlin) become characters, but the focus is still on the robots, and the story becomes yet another chase, racing to retrieve the stolen/lost plant and deposit it in a certain place on the ship before the sentry robots catch them. These action sequences go by very fast after the serene setup, and it almost hurts the eyes. But, like Cars and Ratatouille, even these lesser bits look amazing in terms of weight and movement.

Interestingly, Stanton blames a giant corporation -- the aptly named "Buy 'N' Large" -- for the destruction of the earth and the plumping of the useless human race. And he subtly links it with the U.S. President (played in human form by Fred Willard). It's fairly amazing that a summer blockbuster, and a G-rated kids' film to boot, would step up with this kind of message and still couch it in an entertaining and non-preachy film.

WALL·E isn't an unalloyed triumph from Pixar, but it has more than enough going for it to make it a must-see.

Note: WALL·E plays with a new short film, Presto, which is the writing and directing debut of animator Doug Sweetland. It's one of the best of all the Pixar shorts, with lots of fast-paced and exceedingly clever gags (revolving around a pair of magic hats) and at least one big belly laugh.

Disney's DVD release comes with Presto and a new short film, BURN-E, which takes place within the context of the feature film. We get a commentary track by director Stanton, deleted scenes, featurettes and a digital copy. Filmmaker Leslie Iwerks provides a feature-length documentary on Pixar, and there are some hilarious "Buy N Large" corporate shorts, plus lots more stuff.

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