Earth, long since abandoned by humans, is one huge garbage dump, its atmosphere hazy with pollutants. The trash piles up skyscraper-high. Across this wasteland, rolling on ancient treads, is the eponymous hero of "WALL*E," a robotic trash compactor dutifully crushing the endless refuse into tidy squares, saving the most intriguing of man's leftovers—a Rubik's cube, a light bulb, extra binoculars should he need replacement eyes—for his private collection, which he stores in the shack he calls home. This lonely robot is the last working machine on the planet, a synthetic Sisyphus programmed to repeat his unending task, his only companion an indestructible cockroach—neither of whom, it goes with out saying, has much in the way of a vocabulary.
A trash compactor, a cockroach and a garbage dump? Twenty minutes without a word being spoken? What is this, Beckett in CGI? No, it's Pixar's newest, boldest notion of mass-market family entertainment. Once again, the Pixar wizards have pushed the animation envelope in unexpected directions and come up with a winner. Wondrously inventive, funny and poignant, "WALL*E" is part sci-fi adventure, part cautionary fable, part satire and part love story, which may be the best and most improbable part of all.
WALL*E (which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) loses his metallic heart to EVE (an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a sleek, egg-shaped probe-droid sent to Earth to look for signs of vegetable life. Their budding romance on Earth comes to an abrupt halt when EVE fulfills her directive: WALL*E presents her with an actual living plant, which she tucks inside herself to take back to the humans who have been circling in space for 700 years aboard the giant spacecraft Axiom. The love-struck robot hops aboard the rocketship, determined to pursue her wherever it may lead.
I'll leave for you to discover what has become of humanity after 700 years of floating idly in space attended to by robots and bombarded with corporate advertising. Director Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") and the Pixar team have created a world so packed with witty visual detail—and filled with movie references that range from "2001" to "Blade Runner" to "Manhattan"—that young kids may have a hard time keeping up with the plot. It's a movie that demands full attention, and it may prove more popular with adults than children.
"WALL*E" doesn't have a lot of dialogue, but it has an amazing soundtrack, starting with Thomas Newman's brilliantly eclectic score, which hilariously incorporates "2001"'s "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and "Blue Danube Waltz," as well as two Jerry Herman songs from "Hello Dolly." It's a musical number from this '60s musical, which WALL*E watches on video back at home, that serves as his instruction manual for romantic courtship. Even more important is the contribution of Ben Burtt, the sound and character-voice designer who manages to turn the bleeps and pings of WALL*E and EVE into the touching language of love.
As big a hit as "Cars" was, I could never really get under the hood of those four-wheeled characters. They were the dullest members of the Pixar family. But when this trash compacter nudges his rusty forehead against EVE's smooth white metal brow, you'd have to be a machine for your heart not to melt.
An extra Pixar treat is the cartoon, "Presto," that preceeds it, a slapstick marvel featuring a magician and the disgruntled rabbit he expects to pull out of his hat. The bunny, it turns out, has a few tricks up its own furry sleeve.