'WALL*E", Disney's latest Pixar production, is mesmerizing and provocative — a detour from Pixar's usual lighter fare ("Toy Story," etc).
With plenty of whirs, beeps and whines, this digitally brilliant tale presents an almost surreal and occasionally dark look at the future. The interaction — both human and robotic — offers an often funny yet sobering commentary on the culture of early 21st century Americans: materialism, consumerism and waste.
And just in case we don't get it, there's theme music from "2001: A Space Odyssey." Only this time, the journey is one of escape instead of exploration.
The film's inconvenient truth is demonstrated through gadgetry and biting, wordless satire. Only one is noticed by the target audience of children ages 2 to 10. In contrast to director Andrew Stanton's previous masterpiece "Finding Nemo," this film's advanced animation becomes a virtual visual frenzy. Too many contraptions inflict automation overload.
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Far from subtle (for the grown-ups, at least), the warning is clear: The future features a planet too polluted for habitation, abandoned by all except a sweet and ingenious robot and one extremely hearty cockroach.
WALL*E (or Waste Allocation Load Lifter — Earth Class) works as a trash compactor, joyfully picking through the leftovers of a civilization hooked on hedonism, vanity and disposable everything. To amuse himself, WALL*E collects society's tossed-aside novelties, trends, and long forgotten breakthroughs.
Racked, stacked and categorized, his treasures are like seven centuries' worth of "Antiques Road Show" and a very eclectic country flea market.
The problem is that too much trash has produced an emergency. As a result, the entire human population now resides aboard the Axiom, a space-traveling cruise vessel outfitted with every imaginable convenience, where everyone and everything are closely controlled. The soothing voice giving orders is that of a reassuring Sigourney Weaver.
The Axiom's sincere yet overwhelmed corporate benefactor (left behind) appears only via monitor and seems both benevolent and desperate. Buy N Large CEO Shelby Forthright (voiced by a genuinely sincere Fred Willard) has all but given up, and he warns the Axiom not to return home. And for 700-plus years, it doesn't.
Hurtling through space, the crew occasionally sends out a probe to see if anything has changed, usually with no luck. But this time, their silent explorer, Eve (voiced by an endearing Elissa Knight), finds signs of life, plant life to be exact. More shocking, she has brought a friend.
Eve is a gleaming white, smooth, graceful egglike figure, who also possesses lethally explosive power and a soft spot for WALL*E.
Inside the luxurious Axiom, everyone appears large, sedentary and lazy, and every aspect of daily life is tended to by a fawning staff of robots.
Two of Axiom's most amusing residents (who deliver the bulk of the movie's few lines) are John and Mary. Voiced by a perky Kathy Najimy, the warm, caring Mary and her sensible, grounded husband (a chipper and delightful John Ratzenberger) are soon lured out of their comfort zone by the intriguing intruder. A marvelous Jeff Garlin voices the Axiom's determined and heroic captain.
Futuristic yet down-to-Earth, sci-fi yet all too real, WALL*E almost lets us forget that with instincts and oh so human emotions, two robots that utter no words beyond their names can teach us an awful lot.
Together with the grim realities of a planet's deterioration, comes a message: The rising toxicity level on Earth will render it unsustainable. Between the intergalactic travel and technical wizardry, are we listening?