[Screen It]

(2008) (voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight) (G)

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Animated Adventure: Centuries after Earth has been abandoned, a lone trash collector robot longs for love and thinks he's found it when a sleek, feminine robot suddenly arrives on the planet.
It's the year 2775 and Earth has been abandoned for centuries by humans whose trash eventually overwhelmed the planet. The one entity still at work, however, is a little trash collector robot known as WALL·E (voice of BEN BURTT), short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class. He spends his days scooping up and compacting garbage, but has developed an interesting glitch in the form of curiosity, a friendship with a little cockroach, and the desire to collect various discarded items that he keeps as trinkets.

Among them is a tape of the Hollywood musical "Hello, Dolly!" that has given him a glimpse of what part of human life was like long ago, as well as a desire for love. He thinks he may have found it when a spaceship unexpectedly lands on Earth and deposits an Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator known as EVE (voice of ELISSA KNIGHT).

She's a sleek and futuristic probe sent by those onboard the Axiom, a state of the art mother ship created long ago by Buy n Large CEO Shelby Forthright (FRED WILLARD). Now run by the Captain (voice of JEFF GARLIN) with the aid of a lieutenant robot, Auto (voice of MACINTALK), the ship is filled with thousands of sedentary humans, such as John (voice of JOHN RATZENBERGER) and Mary (voice of KATHY NAJIMY), whose every needs, including that of moving about, are fulfilled by robots.

While there's little hope that EVE will actually complete her prime directive -- finding evidence that Earth has once again become inhabitable -- she's shocked to discover that WALL·E has found a lone plant. She immediately places it into her small cargo hold and then goes inactive, awaiting a return to the Axiom. But this doesn't sit well with WALL·E who longs for the simple romantic gesture of holding hands.

Thus, when her transport ship returns, WALL·E hitches a ride back to the Axiom where his arrival, Earth dirt and all, doesn't sit well with cleaner robot M-O (voice of BEN BURTT). From that point on, and as the Captain and Auto have different reactions to the presence of the plant, WALL·E does what he can to try to rescue his new friend.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Humans have long attempted to contact otherworldly beings, but it's only been in the recent past that such attempts have resulted in manmade things (be they physical or electromagnetic based) actually traveling into outer space in hopes of them finding someone or something out there.

Then there's the matter of similar items that weren't intentionally designed for contact, such as decades of radio and TV signals that have drifted across the galaxy, as well as satellites, robots and such that have been left in orbit around or long abandoned on the surface of distant planets.

The fun notion is what any extraterrestrial life forms might think upon discovering such unofficial envoys. After all, as of this writing, the exploratory robots Spirit and Opportunity are still moving about the surface of Mars, long after their life expectancy has come and gone.

What if they just keep going and going for years, decades or centuries, unaware of the passage of time and the passing of those who created and sent them to do their job? And what if they developed a glitch in the form of a pesky little malfunction known as a personality? That's the fun premise of the absolutely delightful "WALL·E," the latest offering from the folks at Pixar Animation Studios whose one misfire, "Cars," has been pushed back into the shadows with "Ratatouille" and now this film.

The twist in writer/director Andrew Stanton and co-writer Jim Reardon's script is that such a robot isn't found on some distant planet, but instead on Earth, some 700 years in the future. The planet's long since been abandoned, due to an overabundance of trash, but of all the automated garbage collectors created to make the world clean and safe for re-colonization, only WALL·E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is still operational.

Like Will Smith in "I Am Legend," the cute little robot is all alone save for his animal companion (a cockroach, natch, rather than Smith's German Shepherd). And rather than having run-ins with zombie like creatures, WALL·E must contend with a different but still seemingly hostile intruder. In this case, it's EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a far sleeker robot with a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.

Yet, rather than be a sci-fi horror pic, this is a sci-fi love story. And an adventure film, a quest flick, a cautionary tale (showing the perils of waste, a reliance on automation, and a sedentary lifestyle) and more than a bit of homage to its sci-fi predecessors (most notably "2001" but also "Silent Running," etc.), old Hollywood musicals (of all things, "Hello, Dolly!), and comedic lead characters from the era of silent films.

That might sound like it's trying to be too many things, particularly for a pic seemingly targeted at kids (the bleakly presented world in the opening might have some parents wondering what they've gotten their youngsters into). Thankfully, Stanton and company seamlessly meld all of that together into a highly entertaining and emotionally satisfying film that will play equally well to adults, and maybe even more so than with kids (who, nevertheless, will likely enjoy this quite a bit).

Beyond those clever and funny references (that also include subtle commentary on how best-selling products, no matter how once popular, inevitably end up in the trash and eventually are long forgotten), there are several elements that really make this film stand above so much dreck that Hollywood typically offers.

Most obvious are the engaging characters. While the two main robots do have eyes of sorts as compared to the parent and child lamps back in the short film that put a fledgling computer animation outfit on the map long ago), Pixar again proves they certainly have a knack for taking non-human things and giving them tangible emotions. Granted, some of that comes from sounds they emit as well as the very limited words they speak, but the "body language" is simply delicious in the way it tells us everything we need to know.

Speaking of that, this is another stellar example of a pure screenplay in terms of it being a story told with pictures. One could easily turn off all of the sound and still follow most everything that occurs. Granted, a great deal of the film has no dialogue (especially much of the simply brilliant first third), and -- like his silent film predecessors -- WALL·E the character effortlessly engages the audience and wraps us up into his little, but immense world.

Some day, long after parent company Disney broadcasts the movie across its network airwaves, it will travel far, far away into space. And if some alien being happens to intercept those signals and watch the offering, they'll have hope that intelligent life does indeed exist elsewhere in the universe. Here on Earth, at least we know that applies to Pixar and their nearly unblemished record of making engaging and entertaining films for viewers of all ages. A delight from start to finish and certain to become a classic, "WALL·E" rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed June 23, 2008 / Posted June 27, 2008

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