You gotta hand it to Pixar Animation Studios. Always one to take chances, they rely on the strength and imagination of their storytelling to overcome what might sound like a tough sell on paper. Even when they don't quite hit a home run, their films still usually stand out among the other studios' stabs at animated features. Such is the case with "WALL•E," a truly romantic post-apocalyptic love story that nonetheless has the misfortune of being released six months after a somewhat similar sci-fi film, 2007's "I Am Legend
Seven hundred years after pollution and mass garbage build-up drove human beings off the planet and onto a luxurious space station, curious robot WALL•E (voiced by Ben Burtt) is the last of his kind. Built for the purpose of hopefully being able to clean up the earth enough for people to return, WALL•E spends his days collecting trinkets he has found while compacting trash amidst a New York City-inspired metropolis. When the desolate landscape is paid a visit by a spacecraft that drops off a futuristic robot named EVE (Elissa Knight), WALL•E is at first frightened and then undeniably smitten. Their budding romance, however, is threatened when a sign of organic lifea single stem of greeneryis discovered and EVE is promptly shipped back into space. Not about to give up EVE without a fight, WALL•E holds on for dear life outside the ship and secretly climbs aboard, coming face to face with a human race that has ultimately succumbed into gluttonous pawns ruled by imperious, technologically advanced robots.
Written and directed by Andrew Stanton (2003's "Finding Nemo
"), "WALL•E" is a novel computer-generated animated effort in that it is told with a minimum of dialogue. The vocabulary of WALL•E and EVE is mostly relegated to saying each other's name, and the majority of the dialogue comes from the space station announcer (Sigourney Weaver) and a handful of secondary human characters. This valiant creative choice is one of the major assets; WALL•E and EVE are so charismatic, particularly when they are together, that spoken words are beside the point. It is their sweet, gentle and touching love story that undoubtedly gives the picture a burst of much-need heart. That they are made of metal and circuitry makes no difference; they are more flesh and blood than most films' live-action characters.
Less winning is the sci-fi/adventure aspect of the story that too often takes precedence once WALL•E stows away into space. The action becomes coldly repetitive, with the other robotic creatures chasing WALL•E and EVE around and around the station, extending a running time that would have done well to shave off about fifteen minutes in the middle. When these two do sneak in singular moments of togetherness, as when they dance around the outside of the space station, the results are pure magic. The humans, though, who sit in automatic-powered recliners and no longer have a reason to do anything for themselves, never really come alive as they should. This includes a couple, John (John Ratzenberger) and Mary (Kathy Najimy), whose lagging relationship is relit once they learn how joyous physical contact and activities they've never known can be. Without enough time to get to know or care about them, their respective arcs lack the emotional weight that it should.
If the plot, equipped with an obligatory environmental message, is on the stale side, leave it to the sheer inventiveness of WALL•E and EVE to make up for it. Simply put, they are adorabletheir bonding over 1969's "Hello, Dolly!" is exquisitely realized, a bittersweet relic of a time long since pastand the climax, which places their very lives and the state of their relationship in danger, ventures into some dark and foreboding territory before riling up an ending that should widely please audiences. With the chaotic nature of a lot of the second half blending together, "WALL•E" is more uneven than hoped for. Still, this is an original, mature and borderline-artsy family film that makes a name for itself. Like the rest of Pixar's titles, it is destined to endure for years to come.