Pixar's reign as the premiere studio for top grade animated pictures continues, and perhaps peaks, with the post-apocalyptic bittersweet comedy about a little flibbertigibbet robot named Wall-E. The droid, one of the last remaining vestiges of Earth, has been left behind to compile and compact trash. So devastating is the future world's clutter that the entire population must flee the planet and head into space. Wall-E struggles futilely to restore the depleted planet but makes little progress. He piles garbage higher and higher, to the point that the heaps begin resemble new world skyscrapers. All of this at the urging of Buy N' Large, a conglomerate so massive it operates the complete commercial landscape of the planet and, in fact, the international government. Left to their own devices, the human race devolved into thoughtless apes chugging Big Gulps and unimaginatively deteriorating the planets resources to the point of no return. Still plucky, greasy, and sweetly silly Wall-E must navigate the gross terrain. He collects trinkets and things along his way in a hope to approximate a condition of humanity. His favorite thing, it seems, is the movie musical. He waits patiently to experience the phenomenon of "hand holding" as demonstrated to him by none other than Barbra Streisand in his beloved copy of Hello, Dolly.
Wall-E's chance to find that human magic comes in the form of a no-nonsense bot named EVE who comes to Earth with a mission of her own. She appears at first to be an unwooable automaton with no sensitivities. Wall-E's initial attempts approach her lead only to her blasting him with her deadly, comically forceful laser gun. Soon enough though, the warm charm of Wall-E makes its mark on EVE and the two form a connection that will take them to the end of the universe and back again.
Wall-E replaces Finding Nemo as the crown jewel in Pixar's crown, which itself replaced Monsters Inc, which replaced the breakthrough Toy Story from years prior, and so on. The stretch of good fortune and great movie making by the studio stands unparalleled in the modern movie landscape. Not since the glory days of Disney (a parent to Pixar that remains a distant and distinctly different entity) has any one studio made such an unstoppably strong collection of runaway hits. Most impressively, Wall-E with its overtones of global crisis and the replenishing power of true, unbuyable human joy and love speaks more strongly and poetically of these current trying times than any film so far this year, and may remain the truest cinematic speaker of wisdom even once we've endured the pensive fall movie season and closed the book on 2008.
The animation here is an eye-popping yet uncartoonish style that at times renders images clearly enough to fool you into thinking you're watching a filmed feature. Live action material is seamlessly spliced into the feature as to include bits of Hello, Dolly footage and a hybridized performance of sorts by Fred Willard as the planet's final, doomed present who appears exclusively on video playback devices. For those that still consider animation to be a dirty word, there is no doubt this transcends the kiddie demo in scope, scale, and visual grandeur. It is a stunning, sweeping epic that exceeds all expectations and resurrects animation from the tiny tykes graveyard as a viable, alternative style of storytelling.
Children are, in fact, not especially courted here. The film is certainly a warm, family-minded adventure, but certain narrative elements, including a sadly forgotten Wall-E scraping and scrounging around a desolate planet in relative silence, make this film feel more like the animated equivalent of Cast Away than any sort of successor to the typical fast-paced Mouse House fun of yesteryear. It is admirably subtle and quiet, the benefit of which is the inevitable welcoming of an expanse that offers the viewer a world greater than Wall-E's little nook. As his journey takes him into the reaches of outer space the film achieves a fresh magic with just the faintest, uncheesy hint of authentic hope for a better humanity.