As Scott McCloud said in Understanding Comics, humans are incredibly vain creatures.  We can see ourselves in anything – whether it’s a circle with two dots and a line to make a smiley face or our myriad imaginings of extraterrestrials, many of which are distinctly, well… like us.  Some might say that this is because we can’t imagine anything truly beyond ourselves and without connection, but others, myself included, believe it’s because we want to be able to identify with those who are different from us.  Perhaps it’s sympathy, empathy, or the need to understand, but it’s easier to feel for and relate to things that look like and act like us.  This applies from the relatively small jumps, to cartoons and the like, to the absurd leaps.  Like… robots.

WALL•E ( 2008 ) is the story of a robot.  A loveable, adorable, and erringly human robot.  WALL•E is a Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-Class, one of hundreds that has been left behind to deal with the mountains of garbage humans left behind some six hundred years earlier.  However, WALL•E has managed to survive all of this time and has developed a glitch of personality, which has yielded feelings of curiosity, affection, and longing for love.  One day, an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, or EVE, comes to scan the earth for life.  She finds WALL•E, who predictably falls in love.  Though they get off to a rocky start, WALL•E and EVE become companions – until EVE finds what she’s looking for and is retrieved by a spaceship to take her back to wherever she came from.  WALL•E then has a choice: stay behind and continue his lackluster and lonely life on Earth, or follow his love to the ends of the galaxy.  When he chooses the only real option, he opens up a universe of adventure, suspense, and romance.

WALL•E certainly is a new direction for a Pixar movie.  While there is sound, the main character doesn’t speak for the first 30 minutes of the film.  Even when he does begin to speak, he only says two words.  A mostly silent movie seems like a hard sell for kids, but the movie really does shine for all ages, especially in the first hour.  But that’s not all Pixar does differently.  In an odd move, Pixar actually put real live people in the movie.  Fred Willard plays the CEO of Buy -n- Large (BnL), which has devised a craft that will carry humans far from earth so that they can survive until the company’s WALL•E’s have cleared the world of trash and it is safe to return.  There is one BnL commercial with live people as well.  WALL•E even watches a 600+ year old recording of Hello, Dolly! religiously (which gives him his notions of love).  It’s a jarring experience, and one that the viewer certainly doesn’t expect.  Very rarely do we see living people in animation (Family Guy and Spongebob Squarepants come to mind as other cartoons that have taken this rare step), and I had to struggle against being completely taken out of the movie.  I don’t know if it was a good aesthetic choice, though it provides a stark contrast for the fat rolly polly humans that show up in the last 45 or so minutes of the film.

When the humans do show up, it’s hard to tell if the movie suffers or if I was just irate to have the camera away from the protagonists to whom I had already become deeply attached.  I understand the point of including the humans, and I think it’s important that they were in the film and appeared as they did.  Yet after looking at WALL•E and EVE in all of their detailed animation, the humans were nondescript and boring – which was probably exactly the point.  In the end, it only amounts to petty criticism of a beautiful film.

Underneath the beauty and humor of it all is a dire message.  WALL•E’s very premise is a topical critique of how we care for the planet and what we risk losing if we continue to abuse what we have.  It hurts to see the truth in the basis and a possible future in something meant to entertain.  It makes it seem more like the future of an unfolding biography, a prophecy coming true, than it does a simple backdrop.  Add in what could be considered a political dig (Fred Willard utters the all to familiar phrase “stay the course” when talking about a doomed plan), and the humor becomes ironic and the message weighs like a heavy stone.

I recommend that all guys and girls of all ages go and see WALL•E and see a beautiful and amusing story of love, longing, and the redemption of the human race.  It is a movie worthy of a pedastal in the pantheon of the best animated films of the new millenium, and is most certainly a competitor for hearts and minds across the world.