A heartfelt G-rated scifi with plenty of imagination (and human condition) to go around.
Seven hundred years after a garbage-strewn Earth drives the human population into space, the job still isn’t done, and only one robot named WALL?·E (voice of Ben Burtt) is still working to clean up the mess. Over time, WALL?·E has developed both a personality and a case of loneliness, but hope arrives in the form of a robotic probe named EVE (voice of Elissa Knight). When EVE finds what she’s looking for and returns to space, WALL?·E decides he must follow her wherever she goes… even if she doesn’t or can’t yet feel the same way for him.
It’s the same old story: robot meets robot, robot loses robot, robot gets robot back. Of course, these things don’t have noses or even mouths, and it’s probably closer to reality to call them “Mac” (EVE) and “PC” (WALL?·E). Lessons of “You can’t help who you fall in love with” aside (and with only this one mention of pro same-sex subtext), does anyone else feel weird that viewers and reviewers alike keep assigning these things gender as if we expect eventual procreation? Whatever the viewers level of experience in matters of the heart, Disney’s Pixar has made it easy to identify with the human longing to share life with that special someone (or anyone, for that matter). Then there’s the rest of the film…
When the soulless machines catch up with the remnants of humanity, the humans have each other but no purpose to aspire to, which is the opposite of the robot characters. Call me biased, but the irony of humans blissfully taking personal relationships for granted because their every whim is fulfilled seems more far fetched and far less interesting than the robots’ story. As an allegory for the human condition, the silliness that runs rampant once the film catches up to the current state of humanity hints that even the filmmakers weren’t sure they could sell the suggested seriousness of this implication. Forget trashing the planet; what will happen to humanity when humans stop acting humane toward one another? In seven hundred years, no one became curious, ambitious, or inventive?
It would be easy to nitpick the production design (EVE’s tech seemingly being higher than WALL?·E although both were supposedly developed within five years of one another) or the time line of events (the WALL?·E robots on Earth run out of spare parts to repair themselves but the human-populated starcrusiers have on-board resources for 700 years), but it feels like for every plot revelation reinforcing the predicament of WALL?·E, the story moves farther from him/it as a strong central character. One option might have been not to bring the humans into the story at all, allowing the robots to inherit the Earth and leaving humanity to become the stuff of legends. The end credits suggest how that story could have played out, but the overall idea of both humans and machines aspiring to be human by seeking personal fulfillment is nevertheless a positive one (not to mention simply amazing to watch).
(a three skull recommendation out of four)