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By Willie Krischke — July 11, 2008

A movie set some 800 years in the future, “WALL-E’ is a throwback of sorts. It pays tribute to lots of movies, from the expected – “2001,” “Close Encounters,” “E.T.” and “Short Circuit,” but also to more unexpected, and more human, sources, like “Hello Dolly,” “Modern Times,”  Buster Keaton’s films, and any number of Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen characters. This nostalgia gives a “sci-fi” film a big heart, which is good, since it’s about an abandoned planet and nearly hopeless future for our kind.

Our hero (his name is short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class) is the last inhabitant of Earth, except for a cockroach. The planet is covered with garbage, and the generators of all that trash have moved on – apparently, even the Earth was disposable. WALL-E keeps compacting trash, because he’s a trash compactor, and what else is he going to do? He erects vast towers of piled garbage, shaped like the Empire State Building. He has the right personality for the job, and this is perhaps the best joke in the movie: WALL-E’s the kind of guy who likes going through trash, because every now and then he finds treasures. These he collects, as well as anything that might be useful, and his abode looks like your typical software engineer’s desktop – completely overwhelmed with nifty junk, organized in some way known only to him. His favorite possession is a worn out VHS copy of “Hello Dolly,” which he watches obsessively, trying to puzzle out the civilization that left him behind. (God help us if mounds of trash and “Hello Dolly” are all that remain of human civilization. Isn’t there a dog-eared copy of “Hamlet” floating around out there somewhere? )

The first 40 minutes of WALL-E are magical ones. They are utterly absent of dialogue, save a few incidental sound bytes (which fill us in on where all the people went) and WALL-E’s emotive whistles and beeps, reminiscent of R2D2’s. It plays like a great lost Charlie Chaplin film, as our silent character navigates his way through a not-so-silent landscape, lost in the moment, taking what comes his way, and getting tangled up in comedic messes.


EVE appears, a probe sent from above, and WALL-E falls in love.  Their relationship is part “Nutty Professor” and part Woody Allen – WALL-E’s the lovable nerd who collects stuff, EVE the sleek, efficient modern woman who promptly destroys his eggbeater.  EVE has been sent to earth by the surviving humans to look for organic life.  She finally finds what she’s looking for – in the form of a tiny plant –filed between WALL-E’s rubix cube and bubble wrap (which she also destroys.) She freaks out, shuts down, and, after WALL-E totes her around endearingly like Christopher Reeve for a few days, the mothership returns to gobble her up. WALL-E hangs on desperately. And thus ends the really great part of the movie.

And begins the “story” part of the movie. Up until this point, “WALL-E” has been content to futz around without much of a plot, conflict, or story arc, but no longer. The mothership contains the exiled human race, and EVE’s plant is evidence they can go home. The problem is, it’s been 700 years, and nobody remembers home, or cares. The movie’s environmental message, which to this point has been gentle, melancholy, and somewhat humorous, now becomes more overt, and a little mean-spirited.  The people are egg-shaped, beyond fat; living in low-gravity and riding around on couches for 700 years, their bones have softened and shrunk. (I wonder if this is an animator’s joke – Pixar’s humans have always looked a little soft, and now they use that weirdness to their advantage, sort of.) They never take their eyes off the TV screens in front of them, and have forgotten what authentic human interaction is.
Nonetheless, the captain (voiced by Jeff Garlin) gets excited about returning to Earth, the autopilot (in a throwback to HAL) revolts, and it’s up to WALL-E and EVE to lead a rogue robot army against the mothership and get the people back home. Yawn. This half of the movie really isn’t bad – in fact, a lesser studio (like DreamWorks?) probably would’ve jettisoned the first half and focused here – but it’s so inferior to the first half, it feels… beyond anticlimactic.

Naturally, as soon as WALL-E comes out on DVD, parents will buy it for their kids. And the kids will watch it incessantly. My guess is that most parents will stick around for the first half, but as soon as WALL-E rockets into space, find better things to do with their time. Like sort the socks in the sock drawer. That’s what I’d do, anyway.


  • If you’re going to take your kids to something this summer. WALL-E’s the one to see. (Though “Kung Fu Panda” wasn’t bad, either.)
  • If you’re a Chaplin/Keaton fan, and would like to introduce your kids to those old classics.

Not Recommended

  • If you’re tired of futuristic movies that paint a bleak picture of where we’re headed.
  • If you’re a sci-fi geek. Someone somewhere is bound to post an article titled “The Scientific Inconsistencies of WALL-E” – they are plethora – and if that’s all you’re gong to see, you’re going to miss all that’s good about this film.
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  1. mom said

    I saw Wall E last night, I agree the first part was entertaining and I loved the lack of dialogue. However the second part dragged on and on and I was acutely aware of the social commentary.
    It has been compared to Toy Story or Finding Nemo….. not even close !
    I wouldnt buy it or watch it again.

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  1. Top Movies of the Decade #19 | linked to this post on May 11, 2011

    […] my original review, I considered “Wall-E” half a good movie — namely, the first half, with all its […]

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