Screenwriters: Andrew Stanton, Jim Capobianco
Starring: Ben Burtt, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, Sigourney Weaver
Running Time: 103 mins (includes the short Presto)
The magicians at Pixar are a formidable bunch of filmmakers. Racking up more than $4 billion in box office receipts, a raft of Oscars, audience adoration and a secured place in popular culture over eight films, they are Hollywood's only bullet-proof hit factory. After a slight stall with Cars, they regrouped with Ratatouille, a Parisian-set film about a rodent with big culinary aspirations. Their latest offering is equally idiosyncratic. It isn't until around the 40-minute mark that we hear a human voice in WALL-E and much of the rest of the film skimps on speech. Pixar is clearly in an experimental mood.
Right from their first short Luxo to Presto, the one that precedes this film, the art of spinning a good yarn has always been Pixar's top priority. WALL-E perfects and displays that zeal for story and character to the full. The plot centres around Earth's last remaining Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class robot. He leads a lonely existence, clearing away rubbish, looking after his cockroach sidekick and watching an old VHS copy of Hello, Dolly!.
With the planet uninhabitable for the past 700 years, the human race has taken up residence on a giant space cruiser called the Axiom. Back on Earth, WALL-E's solitude ends when a spacecraft touches down and the robot Eve (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), looking like the design of Apple boss Steve Jobs' wildest dreams, is dispatched to scan for green life.
WALL-E becomes enchanted by this new arrival. His playful efforts to impress the sleek Eve provide the early part of the film with trademark Pixar charm. After he presents Eve with a boot containing a sprout of plant life, she snatches it away from him and shuts down. When a ship returns to Earth to pick up Eve and return her to the Axiom, WALL-E hitches a ride and heads into space to get her back.
On the Axiom, the surviving humans (passengers in every sense of the word) are overweight, lazy slobs, drifting around a neon-drenched super city on hoverchairs, communicating through video screens and slurping liquefied food - their lives micro-managed by sentient A.I. that manifests as a HAL 9000-like on-board computer. Through meeting WALL-E and discovering the plant Eve recovered, a sign that life is sustainable on Earth, the ship's Captain (Jeff Garlin) comes to the realisation that he must overrule his mechanical overlords and return his passengers to the planet of their heritage.
In narrative terms, WALL-E is the most uncomplicated of Pixar's efforts, yet it's broader in scope, ideas and theme than anything they've done before. It pays close attention to its science fiction cinematic fathers, with 2001: A Space Odyssey a clear reference point (there are tips of the hat to Alien, Silent Running and Close Encounters too). Like Stanley Kubrick's groundbreaking film, WALL-E details man's relationship with technology - how increasing reliance on it can detach us from reality and what makes us human. It's the darkest and most philosophical kid's animated film yet, but never at the expense of entertainment.
The central love story is heart-warming (never more so than in a sequence showing WALL-E chasing Eve through space propelled by a fire extinguisher), the wit as sharp as ever (look out for a running gag with a sanitation robot who endlessly scrubs away at dirt tracks) and the characters, both human and machine, instantly lovable (Garlin's Captain is superb, WALL-E is ET for the noughties).
WALL-E is Pixar's most ambitious and accomplished film yet. A scathing attack on corporate greed, it explores themes of out-of-control consumerism, ecological conservation, love and, quite poignantly, highlights the difference between being alive and living. It's a breathtaking, inspirational film, transcending the medium of animation and blossoming into a genuinely magnificent piece of cinema.