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I probably have been looking forward to WALL-E, Pixar’s latest CGI feature that opened today, more than just about any other movie this year (including Indy 4 since I used my psychic powers to predict that it would pretty much suck).

Ok, I should say right now that there might be one or two things I write that could qualify as spoilers, so you may want to tread carefully here. Get it? TREAD carefully? Ahem…

Aside from being a big Pixar fan in general, I was intrigued, several months ago, by the magical little intro to the character of WALL-E that was shown on the previews of the Ratatouille DVD. WALL-E is the story of a lonely little robot of the same name (it stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) left on Earth to clean up humanity’s garbage 700 years after the rest of us have gone off into space on a never-ending galactic cruise.

Immediately, we see that WALL-E himself is no cold, soulless robot, but a sweet, lonely little guy with a penchant for old musicals and a serious longing for the loving hand of a fembot companion. His directive is to gather up garbage and compact it into little cubes, which he then stacks into towering, obelisk-like piles many stories high. There’s so much garbage left behind on Earth, in fact, that it’s not likely that WALL-E would ever run out of things to do.

Especially since he provides himself with numerous detours as he collects little odds and ends left behind by humanity; curiosities and trinkets that he takes back to his shelter, a massive vehicle with a big, heavy door that protects him from Earth’s periodic dusty winds.

And this is our first true insight into WALL-E’s personality and his quest. As we’re introduced to his only friend, a nameless cockroach, WALL-E takes his Igloo cooler full of humanity’s left-behind rubbish back to his battered abode, decorated as it is with bobbleheads, Rubik’s cubes and even Christmas lights strung up around the ceiling. These bits of junk are treasures to our little hero, his only ties to the creators who left seven centuries earlier. WALL-E may be mechanical and have a great work ethic, but he’s seriously lonely. And that’s not all.

As we watch WALL-E watching a cherished old VHS tape of Hello Dolly (the VCR is jury-rigged to display the movie on an iPod, maginfied by a screen cobbled together, we assume, by WALL-E himself to aid in his repeated enjoyment of the music and dancing of the classic film), we see him express curiosity and longing, especially at the moment when two lovers hold hands. Having nobody to hold hands with, WALL-E clasps his own metal hands together, obviously wishing that it was with soembody (or something) else. There are just fantastic moments of, I dare say, tenderness in this film that completely go against the very fact that we are watching mostly non-speaking machines that don’t even look like humans.

The story takes WALL-E on a journey after a giant, mysterious spaceship lands and leaves behind a robotic probe…a gleaming, white, perfect ovoid of fembot lovliness named EVE, who’s looking for…something.

And here’s where our love story truly begins. I won’t delve too much into the plot, but at its core, WALL-E is, in fact, a very touching love story. Innocent and pure, the climax being something so simple and genuine. And on this level, WALL-E succeeds greatly.

[SPOILERISH STUFF HERE >>] Where I wish WALL-E, the robot, would have done a bit more cleanup, however, is in the part of the plot that smacks a bit of being a “green” message that comes close to smacking us in the face. WALL-E was one of many robots left on Earth to clean up humanity’s mess, and it’s taken 700 years of us not being there for the planet to be able to sustain life again…proof of which is a little plant that WALL-E found growing inside of an old refrigerator (yes, I know, there’s no sunlight inside of a refrigerator). To me, the green message felt a bit out of place.


That aside, however, WALL-E is still and foremost a love story, and one that makes particular use of Pixar’s storytelling chops. If you’ve read anything about the film, you’ve no doubt heard that most of the robots in the film don’t speak but a couple of words. Just about everything is done visually, with gestures and clever use of sound effects and an expressiveness that we can only hope to achieve one day in real life with robots.

In fact, if you have any doubts about Pixar’s ability to tell a story, stick around and watch the end credits, where a number of story elements and character traits are expressed through the use of simplistic, pixely graphics that look like they came straight out of Dig-Dug. It’s a brilliant little addition to an already wonderful film.

Visually, WALL-E is somewhat of a departure for Pixar films. Much of the scenery on Earth is nearly photo-realistic. This even includes WALL-E himself, who will no doubt trigger memories of Number 5 from Short Circuit (maybe they’re related?). All of the other robots and things aboard the Axiom are much more animated-looking, and reminded me a bit of the look of things in parts of The Incredibles. And there are bits of live-action video, from the Hello Dolly scenes to a few recorded messages from mega-corporation BnL’s CEO Shelby Forthright, played by Fred Willard. As is typical for Pixar films, however, the music, by Thomas Newman (who also did the music for Finding Nemo), is catchy, whimsical and just perfect.

Vaguely annoying messages aside, if you have any sense of romance, you will love the love story of this film, and you may even find yourself getting a bit choked up in a couple of parts. Not that, you know, I got choked up or anything like that. After all, how could a 40 year old guy get choked up over a story about a lonely robot?

Hint: for the answer, just go see the movie…you’ll be glad you did. WALL-E is one of the most touching and original sci-fi films in quite some time.