When you have a track record like Pixar, each new film becomes compared to the best you have already done. If a new film doesn't attain these same levels, these same impossibly high levels, the same levels no one else can attain with such consistency, a film that would otherwise be good, is just OK. "Wall-E" is such a film. I didn't love "Wall-E", it doesn't achieve the greatness of "Finding Nemo", "The Incredibles" or "Ratatouille", but it is good. "Cars" good.
In the future, the Buy N Large Corporation runs the Earth and it becomes so polluted they evacuate all humans, sending them to space on super deluxe spaceships, much like a cruise ship, for what they promise will be a five year trip. They are leaving behind a number of Wall-E robots, robots designed to collect and compact all of the trash humans have left behind, clearing the Earth of all garbage and allowing plant life to return. Seven hundred years later, there is one Wall-E left. He has developed a little routine and starts each morning listening to an old VHS tape of "Hello Dolly!" After rallying his pet cockroach, he heads out to work. If he needs a replacement part, he collects it from one of the many defunct Wall-E's and also collects a small ice cooler of odd objects that are of interest to him. One day, a spaceship touches down and releases a new modern probe called EVE. The shiny white robot begins to scour the area, looking for something. Wall-E watches from afar, entranced by the new robot. Suddenly, he understands what all of the singing and dancing in his favorite tape was about. Eventually, Wall-E and EVE meet and begin a relationship. But when EVE finds what she is looking for, Wall-E works desperately to follow her back to the mother ship and to keep their relationship going.
Directed by Andrew Stanton, who directed "Finding Nemo" and worked on the "Toy Story" films and "Monsters, Inc.", "Wall-E" is very similar in tone and feel to "Finding Nemo".
The first half of the film sets up Wall-E's environment, showing us what his responsibilities are, what he does for fun, his friend (the cockroach) and his life. He enjoys watching an old VHS tape of "Hello Dolly!" because of the singing and dancing, but doesn't quite understand why he enjoys watching it. Every day, he sets out to work, taking his old ice cooler with him. When he finds a strange, or likable object, he throws it into the cooler and takes it back to his home, to store or use as decoration. As a robot, he happily goes about his daily routine, keeping an eye out for the frequent dust storms that seem to pop up and sweep across the landscape.
As Wall-E sets out to do his work every morning, he passes the skyscrapers that are still standing, but very much vacant. As he collects the garbage and compacts it into little blocks, he builds his own skyscrapers, much like they must have built the pyramids.
Then one day, he finds a strange object. A little plant, which he transplants to an old shoe. He takes it back to his living quarters.
Then a spaceship shows up and EVE is left behind to scan the area. Initially, Wall-E watches her from afar because he is unsure of what or who she is. And it doesn't help that she has a mean laser gun, ready to fire at the slightest sound. So he follows her around, ducking behind garbage and other objects to watch her as she becomes more and more discouraged that she hasn't found what she is supposed to find.
Eventually, they meet and Wall-E realizes why he has liked the singing and dancing in "Hello Dolly!" so much. He has fallen in love. And EVE is smitten too.
This part of the film is almost completely without words, except for the occasional talking billboard or burst of music from the VHS tape, Wall-E and EVE are robots. They don't speak, but they do manage to make sounds that are like each other's names, communicating in this way. This, combined with the very different style of animation, may be a surprise to many. The children in the audience will probably universally accept it, but it isn't the same brightly colored animation we are used to. Many of the images are almost photorealistic, and everything has a hard edge, looks dusty (the Earth was abandoned due to pollution after all) and it looks a bit like an old spaghetti Western.
But it is very sweet. Watching Wall-E go about his daily routine is akin to watching Chaplin or Keaton in one of their silent films. He has a definite routine, developed after so many years alone on the planet, that it is fun to discover what he does. We meet his pet cockroach. We see what he does for work. We see how he has adapted to the harsh living conditions. We even see where he lives. Then, when EVE enters the picture, his eyes get a little wide and we instantly understand. He is in love.
As he follows EVE around, he watches what she is doing, scanning particular objects, looking for something. Initially, he stays hidden because he doesn't know how to react, but when they meet, their romance blooms.
Then, when EVE finds a sample of what she is looking for, he body goes into autopilot and she summons the ship to return for her. Wall-E doesn't know what is going on, but when he sees the ship return, he knows he has to tag along or he might lose her forever.
As Wall-E rides through outer space, it almost looks like the filmmakers took real footage of outer space and used this for their backgrounds. This sequence is truly beautiful and almost worth the price of admission alone.
The ship returns to the mother ship and we meet the humans who escaped Earth over 700 hundred years ago. We see how they have adapted to life in outer space, how they have changed, and living with robots that cater to their every whim. They meet the Captain of the ship, who realizes what he has to do and this sets off a series of adventures between Wall-E, EVE, the humans and the other robots on board.
The second half of the film is very different in tone and feel from the first half and it is a shift that almost derails the entire film. The filmmakers have been very inventive in creating this world, showing us how humans would evolve and adapt to a very lazy life on a cruise ship, their every whim provided for by highly automated robots. And they have created a whole series of robots, designed for every purpose.
When the humans first appear, the animation shifts and we start to see more traditionally animated characters. They also are a little more amusing, maybe because they aren't that far removed from our current reality, and they speak. So there are a lot of very different things going on in this new part of the film.
And Wall-E and EVE have to work to make things right, to finish EVE's mission. As they do this, they become closer and EVE realizes the true extent of Wall-E's feelings towards her.
"Wall-E" is a very good animated film, but it is only a good Pixar film. The two halves of the film work well, but because they are so different, they almost fail to come together and this requires the viewer to shift along with the tone and feel of the film. The first half, involving Wall-E and his courtship of EVE is almost a little magical and unlike anything we have ever seen in a film. The second half is busier, louder, more inventive and more action packed. It is interesting, but not nearly as magical and it is difficult to see the two halves as a whole. But because it is so well done, the two halves do fit together, just, and "Wall-E" is a very good film, enjoyable for the whole family.