This movie isn’t environmental propaganda. It isn’t satire, either. Nor is it bleak. I feel I should start off my review with a quick précis of what WALL•E isn’t because WALL•E’s been made to sound… arty. And anytime an animated movie sounds arty I start thinking of Belleville Rendezvous and I wonder: is it actually any good? Because Belleville wasn’t good; it was bitter. It looked like the kind of nightmare Hieronymus Bosch might draw inspiration from and it played sloooooow, and frightening. WALL•E isn’t anything like Belleville Rendezvous. It’s more like Manhattan. It avoids satire because – against hope – it believes in people. It’s the most uplifting movie of the year, and the best date movie.
Far in the future, Earth has become uninhabitable. Long abandoned by mankind, the planet is now home to WALL•E, who is a robot. From what we gather, there were once many thousands (perhaps millions) of robots like WALL•E; built to try to clean-up the planet ready for Man’s return. But humankind has forgotten about Earth, and all other WALL•E-like robots have ceased to function; WALL•E is alone. To pass the time, WALL•E goes about his duties collected refuse and quashing it into cubes. He also collects little treasures he finds among the ash-heaps, including a video of the musical Hello Dolly!, which contains his favourite song. Life seems to equal never-ending work for WALL•E, until one day a strange space-craft lands on Earth – and with it: EVE, another robot. Here’s where a love story begins…
The first thirty minutes of WALL•E has no dialogue. We might as well get that out there at the start. There is that song WALL•E that likes, but WALL•E doesn’t speak. And yes, some people are going to say this is a bit too arty-a-move for a cartoon. But I don’t think Pixar (the studio that made WALL•E) ditched the dialogue for nothing. Who (for the sake of argument) could WALL•E speak to in the first half-hour? Besides, just because he doesn’t speak, it doesn’t follow that there’s no sound. On the contrary, WALL•E is a marvel of sound design. You’re almost more aware of how things sound without the distraction of listening to what’s said. WALL•E himself communicates the way R2D2 once did, with whoops and squeaks in place of nouns and verbs. His romance with EVE is handled almost entirely through the way each says the other’s name (Raymond Carver couldn’t have pared love down to anything sparer than that).
If you go to watch WALL•E as anything other than a love story; you go misinformed. All the best moments (the ones that knock accusations of satire and misanthropy on their ass) are about romance between two robots. Crazy as it sounds, I think WALL•E and EVE are the most heart-warming couple since Juno and Bleeker got together. Anyone who watches EVE watch her security tape… and who doesn’t cry – frankly, isn’t human. That goes double for the first kiss in space, and quadruple for the finale. I’ll grant you, perhaps, things do get a bit schmaltzy here and there. But the purpose of romance in WALL•E isn’t chocolate-box, it’s about heroism. Love in WALL•E requires bravery, self-sacrifice… It’s a means of reconnecting us with why humanity is worth saving. Because we’re dumb as rocks, but we’re also the people Tracy appealed to in Manhattan; the ones who just need to have faith that not everyone gets corrupted.
Manhattan is, I know, a fairly odd reference point for a Disney movie about a robot stranded on Earth 700 years in the future, but… You know the scene where Woody Allen tries to make a list of all the things that make life worth living? (Things he’d overlook if Mariel Hemingway hadn’t set him thinking). Well, that’s the scene WALL•E reminds me of. It’s about waking up to life. All the little treasures WALL•E plucks from the ashes – as tacky as they are – they’re like “the crabs at Sam Wo’s”: if they delight one person, if they make one person see more than waste and refuse in this world, there’s hope for us. Love stories aren’t about love, at their best; they’re about discovery. WALL•E is a success because you find yourself moved by machines.