Pixar's "WALL• E" is a charmer
MOVIE REVIEW A charming mix of sci-fi adventure, wistful romance and a dash of "Hello, Dolly!," "WALL• E" once again proves the Pixar...
Seattle Times movie critic
"WALL• E," with the voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver. Directed by Andrew Stanton, from a screenplay by Stanton and Jim Reardon. 96 minutes. Rated G. Several theaters.
A charming mix of sci-fi adventure, wistful romance and a dash of "Hello, Dolly!," "WALL• E" once again proves the Pixar gang can do the impossible. Having conquered talking race cars ("Cars"), lost fish ("Finding Nemo") and a Gallic rat who wants to be a chef ("Ratatouille"), the animation wizards have moved on to a greater challenge: a nearly wordless tale of a lonely robot, busily compacting garbage in a human-free Earth destroyed, many centuries from now, by pollution.
It's a potentially grim premise, and at times in the film's early moments I wondered if I was trapped in some strange animated remake of that Will Smith movie where he's all alone in a ravaged New York. But "WALL• E" quickly finds its own unique groove. The rusty, boxy little robot (voiced, for the few chirpy sounds he can make, by Ben Burtt) is rich in expression, just in the way his binocular-like eyes raise and droop, or how his head tilts quizzically. His small stature and determinedly forward movement make him seem tiny and vulnerable in a desolate landscape of skyscrapers and garbage — a setting that's bleak yet beautifully rendered in an infinite variety of burned-out browns and grays.
And while WALL• E has few words, he has plenty of personality. (His name is an acronym for his function: he's a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class, the last remaining of thousands of robots sent by a corporation to clean up the Earth while the humans were off on a luxury space cruise.) In doing his job, he finds things he likes among the rubble and brings them to the transport truck in which he's made his quiet home. These possessions reveal much about WALL• E: a Rubik's Cube, a singing fish ("Don't Worry, Be Happy"), an eggbeater, a velvet ring box, a string of Christmas lights.
But his favorite possession is a battered videotape of a musical (the film doesn't identify it, but it's "Hello, Dolly!") — the only one he knows. And, in what's clearly a nightly ritual for him, he endlessly rewatches two numbers: the bright, strutting enthusiasm of "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," and the romantic intimacy of "It Only Takes a Moment." Watching the latter, WALL• E's metal, claw-like hands unconsciously intertwine; he's lonely, and this Hollywood fantasy is what feeds his unvoiced dreams.
So yes, a girl robot known as Eve (Elissa Knight), sleekly modern and very different from WALL• E, turns up, and the movie becomes an adventure in which the two travel to outer space, find hope for the world and fall in love. And yet director/co-writer Andrew Stanton and his talented team keep the story very small, focusing on moments that resonate at any age: the fun of popping bubble wrap with a new friend, the pleasure of finally having a hand (or, in this case, a metal appendage) to hold, the way an old-fashioned musical can suddenly seem to convey an emotion with startling immediacy.
This is Pixar's most audacious film yet, and some small children may become impatient with the film's long wordless stretches. (Most of the kids present at the preview screening, though, seemed entranced, with some rooting aloud for WALL• E.) But the storytelling is so meticulous and skilled, some may not even notice the absence of dialogue. "WALL• E," with its sweetly bedraggled little hero, draws in and charms its audience. It only takes a moment, as the song goes, to fall in love.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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