What if our waste and perpetual need of material goods caused us to leave earth because of how uninhabitable it had become? How would we clean up Earth? Who would be left behind to inhabit our planet? How long would it be before we could return?
This is the world presented to us in Pixar’s masterful ninth film, WALL-E. While a previous film, Cars presented us a world lacking humans and not explaining to us why they aren’t here, we are told clearly why humans don’t live on Earth in 2805. A little less than 100 years from now, megacorporation Buy-n-Large has decided to move humans away from Earth in spaceships while Waste Allocation Load Lifter—Earth class robots, or WALL-E’s, are left on earth to clean up. But 700 years later, there’s only one robot left on earth, a WALL-E unit (Ben Burtt) who has developed a personality as well as a love for the film version of Hello, Dolly!. One day, a large technologically advanced spaceship lands on Earth and an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator robot, or EVE (Elissa Knight), emerges with a directive to see if there’s any sustainable life on Earth. WALL-E instantly falls in love with her, even though she fires a plasma gun at him. When EVE discovers a plant WALL-E has put in an old boot, she closes up, seemingly lifeless. WALL-E cares for her until her ship comes, which he latches onto, following her up into space where we see that earth now is surrounded by stationary satellite pollution. EVE’s ship is docked on the ship Axiom, where robots do most of the work while humans, who are now morbidly obese and have suffered bone loss, lay back on their motorized chaise lounges, where they use screens to video chat with people right next to them. While on the ship, EVE has to get the plant to the captain (Jeff Garlin), who does almost nothing, which will allow for the passengers to return to Earth thanks to proof that the planet is inhabitable once again. However, the ship’s autopilot, Auto (MacInTalk), has a HAL-like personality that derails the plans.
WALL-E was Andrew Stanton’s second film for Pixar, after Finding Nemo and once again a level of beauty is brought to the animation as we see the decay of Earth as a result of its transformation into a massive landfill where WALL-E goes around compressing the trash while collecting various odd items. There’s also the sleek, perfect design of EVE, a contrast to the boxy, grimy appearance of WALL-E, although EVE’s sterile appearance is no doubt the result of having originated on the Axiom, while WALL-E has been on Earth for about 700 years. The interior of the ship manages to both look like a futuristic city, similar to Tokyo, while resembling the interior and exterior of cruise ships, at least based on my experience on a cruise ship. But the most magnificent scenes are those that take place outside of the ship, in space. Here, we see WALL-E touching the ring of Saturn, or him and EVE dancing outside of the ship in a beautiful dance that manages to both seem choreographed and spontaneous.
The astounding aspect of this film is that it relies more on how characters look, their body movements and physical actions, as well as the environments around them. A good third of the film features very little dialogue between WALL-E and EVE, although their dialogue isn’t that lengthy. Most of the dialogue comes in when the two robots arrive at the ship because of the presence of humans. But meanwhile, the robots are incredibly expressive and show a wide range of emotions. Solely from what they do, some people might think, “I hope I have a relationship as wonderful as WALL-E and EVE have.”
From the moment this film begins, with what is my favorite opening for a Pixar film that doesn’t result in me sobbing—in this film, a camera flies around space before entering earth where we see WALL-E at work as “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” plays—to the end, we’re given a very original, thoroughly beautiful, moving film that manages to simultaneously give us a glimpse of our potential future as well as show us how beautiful the connections made by two beings can be. We see this both through WALL-E and EVE, as well as John (John Ratzenberger) and Mary (Kathy Najimy), two humans on the Axiom who meet each other face-to-face after encounters with WALL-E and discover the joys of splashing in the ship’s pool, which they didn’t know of. Even with the grim future presented as a result of mass consumption and waste, any potential message that could be gathered from this film doesn’t feel didactic. It seems secondary to the story and mostly an explanation as to why WALL-E is the last robot left on earth and humans have left.
Perhaps Pixar entered a golden age during the period where Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 were released. All four of those films have strong stories and images, focusing on our condition and conflicts. While one of those films was very easy to merchandise, all of them come across as having been made to tell a story. Particularly with WALL-E and Up, those films succeed at doing so.