Seven hundred years after humankind fled its refuse-strewn planet, one robot remains: WALL-E. Each day the diligent bot—whose name stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class—charges his solar-powered batteries and gets to work cleaning up the global landfill that is humanity’s messy legacy. His trash-compactor torso crunches garbage into cubes, which WALL-E artfully stacks as high as skyscrapers. Occasionally, bits of castoff flotsam catch his eye: a Rubik’s Cube. A light bulb. Forks. And … a small plant. So he stores them away inside the decrepit industrial vehicle he calls home.
WALL-E’s only companions? A good-natured cockroach and a beloved, ancient VHS copy of Hello Dolly. The latter he watches nearly every day: WALL-E pines for the love he observes between the movie’s main characters. And his wish comes true the day a rocket unexpectedly thunders down on top of him and dispatches a pretty, sleek and mysterious “female” robot dubbed EVE (for Extraterrestrial Vegetative Evaluator). WALL-E watches in wonder as EVE scans one object after another and as she flits this way and that. She’s obviously looking for something, but to no avail.
It’s not long before the pair o’ bots meet—an event that’s almost WALL-E’s undoing since EVE has an off-putting habit of blasting potential threats into smithereens. Still, WALL-E is smitten, and he gives her the plant he’s found as a gift. Her digital eyes light up! It’s her holy grail. Soon a rocket returns to whisk her back to where she came from—with WALL-E tenaciously clinging to the craft’s exterior lest he be separated from his new love.
Their destination is an ark-like spaceship carrying humanity’s remnants, who have grown obese and utterly self-absorbed as robots tend to their every need. WALL-E and EVE’s arrival turns everything topsy-turvy—helping a few humans realize the time has come to re-colonize Earth.
One of the first virtues showcased by Pixar’s latest is a good work ethic. WALL-E has been alone for who knows how long. But the lack of accountability doesn’t stop him from doing his junkyard job every day. WALL-E knows what his purpose is, and he dutifully fulfills it. Likewise, even though EVE is curious about WALL-E, she, too, is dedicated to her directive of finding vegetative life. Once the robots hit it off, they’re equally dedicated to protecting and rescuing each other from the perils that follow.
Without jabbing its thumb too fiercely into moviegoers’ chests, the film skewers our consumer culture and the damaging effects of over-consumption. A big-box corporation satirically dubbed Buy n Large has taken over and directs virtually every aspect of humanity. Constant commercials and enormous Blade Runner-like billboards have utterly numbed humanity’s soul. The corporation’s motto? “We Want More for You.” It’s an attitude that’s obviously made Earth unlivable. And once WALL-E and EVE reach the humans’ spaceship, the Axiom, we see the next result: enormously overweight people who ride around on floating, car-ish electro-couches with a computer screen forever in front of them. When a few folks fall off these carts, robots have to help the poor “beached whales” back on.
WALL-E and EVE’s adventures on the Axiom impact three humans in particular. John and Mary get bumped out of their routines and look up from their computer screens for seemingly the first time ever. They notice the beauty of the stars, and they discover one another. For them, it’s akin to waking from a dream to soak up the sunshine of a beautiful morning.
The third human nudged out of his consumerist stupor is the ship’s captain. EVE’s arrival with a live plant automatically activates the ship’s preprogrammed directive to return to humanity’s home. It also births in the captain an intense interest in his race’s history, which neither he nor the ship’s passengers know anything about. The captain becomes especially engrossed with the idea of plants and farming.
So when a dastardly, HAL 9000-esque robot named Auto tries to keep the ship from returning to Earth, the captain, John, Mary, WALL-E and EVE join forces to change the course of humankind’s destiny.
WALL-E doesn’t have any explicit spiritual content. But several story elements symbolically allude to Genesis. There’s EVE’s name for starters. And WALL-E, like Adam, is lonely and desires companionship. He’s also the sole caretaker, again like Adam, of a planet in need of good stewardship. Then there’s the fact that humanity evaded Earth’s eco-apocalypse aboard a giant space ark. And the Genesis flood story gets echoed again when EVE is sent to look for evidence of plant life that would indicate that it’s safe for humans to re-open the ark’s doors.
Never mind that 700-year-old fabric wouldn’t still be … fabric, WALL-E humorously discovers a bra in the trash and puts it on over his camera-lens eyes. He and EVE hold hands, er, claws, and share something akin to innocent kisses. (Their heads briefly bonk as they lean into each other.) John and Mary hold hands, too.
Moments of intense-but-cartoonish peril and violence, usually played for humor, pulse through WALL-E. The little robot almost gets pinned beneath EVE’s rocket when it lands. Before she knows what (who) WALL-E is, EVE repeatedly fires powerful blasts his direction, vaporizing rocks and leaving WALL-E shaking in terror. One of the robot’s camera-lens eyes pops off and dangles uselessly. And he is almost crushed (but EVE revives him).
Just as R2-D2 constantly got knocked around in the Star Wars movies, so WALL-E is continuously on the receiving end of all manner of hits and scrapes (like getting pinned to a glass door by a horde of shopping carts). He barely makes it out of an escape pod before it self-destructs in a massive fireball. Lightning strikes him.
WALL-E mistakenly thinks a diagnostic test being run on EVE is torturing her. And WALL-E is tortured with a surge of electricity. Elsewhere, the captain battles Auto for control of the ship’s bridge. And when the Axiom pitches over unexpectedly, its passengers all roll down the slope of a large open deck, crashing into one another. (John and Mary join hands to protect several roly-poly infants.)
WALL-E runs over his cockroach friend twice. And EVE blasts the critter. But being a cockroach, it’s fine. A room full of defective robots run amok, often crashing into other bots.
“Heck,” “darn,” “golly” and an unfinished “what the …”
There’s no drug or alcohol content, but WALL-E does have a fondness for collecting cigarette lighters he finds in the trash.
Lately, every time I go to a Pixar movie I wonder, How are they going to make this idea work? How interesting could a rat in Paris possibly be, for example? Or a self-absorbed race car? I’m not always convinced ahead of time that ideas like these are strong enough to carry a 90-minute movie.
But I’m always wrong.
And so it is again with WALL-E—a feature film about robots who don’t even talk! Yep, Pixar has yanked yet another rabbit out of its animation hat. With style, I might add. And for me, in fact, WALL-E may actually be the studio’s best work.
Scenes evoke a sense of awestruck wonder, innocence and a childlike sense of possibility—such as when WALL-E reaches curiously into the dust that makes up one of Saturn’s rings, or when he and EVE enjoy a ballet-like dance in space. You can’t help but grin, and you don’t have to worry that this joyful stuff is going to get polluted by some unnecessarily gross gag in the very next scene. The movie’s edgiest element, after all, is WALL-E blinding himself with a bra. And while its G-rated action includes explosions, robot chases and a few perilous moments for our mini mechanical friends, there’s nothing here that should make even a kindergartner cry.
Some credit for these cinematic virtues must go to the film’s director, 42-year-old Andrew Stanton, who told Christianity Today, “They tell you that as a storyteller, it’s vital to just stick with and be honest with your values system. The last thing I want to do is go to a movie and feel like I’m being preached at. … I think it’s more honest—and you’re going to have more effect—to be truthful with the values of your characters. … That was the case with WALL-E. The greatest commandment is to love one another, and to me, that’s the ultimate purpose of living. So that was the perfect goal for the loneliest robot on Earth, to learn the greatest commandment, to learn to love.”
So, without being preachy, Stanton’s film gently uses hyperbole to critique consumerism and demonstrate the importance of environmental care along with the value of hard work. It posits a future in which everyone’s more than a little heavy, sure, and it’s already being tweaked for appearing to be insensitive in this area. It’s like the New York Post‘s Kyle Smith writes on his kylesmithonline.com blog, “Those potato-y people of the future seemed uncomfortably close to paying guests of Walt Disney World, passively absorbing entertainment in a sterile, climate-controlled, completely artificial wonderland that profits from everything they eat, see or do.”
Stanton’s take? “I wasn’t trying to make the humans into fat, lazy consumers,” he told Christianity Today, “but to make humanity appear to be completely consumed by everything that can distract you—to the point where they lost connection with each other, even though they’re right next to each other. The reason I made them look like big babies was because a NASA guy told me that they haven’t yet simulated gravity perfectly for long-term residency in space. And if they don’t get it just right, atrophy kicks in and you begin to lose your muscle tone—you just turn into a blob of goo.”
That’s not the core of the WALL-E story, anyway. This isn’t a post-apocalyptic sermon determined to blast overweight moviegoers. It’s the love story of two adorable robots who discover what it means to take care of one another. And along the milky way, they remind humanity what it means to be human.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.