By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Exiting from a showing of “WALL-E,” a colorful swath of satirical, post apocalyptic animation directed by Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”), I wondered if the two little fat kids in front of me got the message. After all, part of the film’s cautionary tale about an Earth no longer habitable due to humankind’s excesses takes issue with their problem.
This isn’t your usual kiddy flick. From how we treat our bodies to what damage we’re wreaking on the home planet, the G-rated sci-fi parable points fingers. It is a bold stroke, as commendable for its unabashed, entry level muckraking as for its artistic look at a future that needs saving.
In the year 2700, on a bleak landscape bereft of life as we know it, little WALL-E, a trash compacting robot, attempts to make order of things. Tackling the robot-task equivalent of cleaning the Augean stables, he has neatly piled high veritably millions of crushed, junkyard cubes of debris…towers of testament to man’s misbegotten past.
He toils dawn till dusk. A fortress of solitude the eternal optimist returns to each night is jam-packed with his favorite things…junk/memorabilia that sweetly informs of his hopeful, romantic nature.
Lonely, the Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class (WALL-E) has only a cockroach to keep him company. To help wile away the hours, he plays and replays a videocassette of “Hello, Dolly!” (1969). But in dramatic contrast to that musical’s hearkening to a more joyful era, “WALL-E” does most of its emoting via pantomime.
The eyes have it…WALL-E’s specifically. Doubtless, students of animation could tell you about the anatomical knowledge that goes into convincing us that the title character’s orbs are indeed a window to the movie’s soul. He is a Little Tramp, an Everyman, and the world’s sins, and perhaps its only hope for the future, have come to reside in him.
But it’s also about EVE. When a spaceship leaves off a much more sophisticated robot, it looks like WALL-E’s reign as a symbol of everything that was ever good about humanity may be coming to a close. A clean, and at first blush mean machine, our initial impression of the visitor is frightening.
Made from some sort of white polymer, flitting about like a firefly, probing, analyzing, the sleek, capsule-shaped bot makes our boy look like a Model T. Seemingly whenever the whim strikes, the omnipotent EVE obliterates whatever offends with her laser. WALL-E shudders. Yet go figure. He’s falling in love.
But it’s first things first for the career gal. So let’s back up a bit. Knowing the world was crumbling, off the humans sailed aboard the Axiom, ostensibly a Noah’s Ark run by robots. The overall escape plan included a possible return if it were found Earth could again support life. EVE stands for Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator. And now, she’s had a sensing.
It’s a little plant WALL-E found in his rummaging, potted in an old shoe and placed among his treasures. Once EVE discovers and immediately envelops it, the spaceship is summoned to return her to the Axiom. WALL-E doesn’t know what gives, but he isn’t about to let love sift through his grabbers. He latches onto the ship and hitches a ride.
Combine several sci-fi films about we homosapiens going soft and becoming subservient to the very technology we created and it explains the scene WALL-E discovers aboard the Axiom. It’s been seven hundred years since the exodus and apparently the latest crop of refugees has been skipping its Weight Watchers meetings.
Truth is, they haven’t been doing much of anything. Surviving on liquid nutrients, they can’t even enjoy the real pizza the beached whale of a captain (Jeff Garlin) fantasizes about eating. Getting around on the space-age equivalent of golf carts, the rubbubchubbs no longer walk. They rarely communicate. Oh, woe is mankind.
Following a long established cliché, the once servile robots have spotted the abrogation of power and seized it. One needn’t be a Machiavellian scholar to figure that for these mechanical powers that be, EVE’s recent find doesn’t spell good news. The renaissance that will accompany a return to Earth surely would mean their demotion.
Hence, orchestrated by Otto Pilot, the head-meanie-villain, there is first a cover-up and then a full-scale civil war. It’s the fascistic robots vs. WALL-E, EVE and the effete humans, with no less than the destiny of the world at stake.
Though it plays on two levels, whether Junior will be able to grok this primer in politics, science, sociology and geo-economics and still enjoy a guiltless laugh is another story. Unlike the easily loveable “Cars” (2006), “WALL-E” comes with a weighty moral directive, charging us to think like the humans it contends we’re capable of becoming.
“WALL-E,” rated G, is a Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios release directed by Andrew Stanton and stars the voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight and Jeff Garlin. Running time: 103 minutes
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