Film Review: WALL•E Brings Robot Love to Space

WALL-E pats the seat next to him invitingly, hoping EVE will join him.
WALL-E pats the seat next to him invitingly, hoping EVE will join him. (Image credit: ©Disney/PIXAR. All Rights Reserved)

If you thought Nemo and Buzz Lightyear were cute, brace yourselffor WALL?E, one of the most endearing characters, robotic or otherwise, ever tograce a movie screen.

With its newest CG-animated creation, Disney-Pixar hasoutdone itself. The fact that WALL?E, a robotic trash compactor left strandedon a future Earth, can communicate so much emotion without real facialfeatures or even a speaking voice, is an impressive feat.

Much has been made of the risk the filmmakers took in producinga movie with almost dialogue-less main characters. But the lack of chatter feltrefreshing and let the gorgeous visuals and emotive actions of its characterstell the story.

The action takes place in intricately appealing landscapes,including a dazzling trip through the galaxy. Even the bleak future Earth,almost devoid of life, is packed with visual details such as the Christmaslights and garden gnome in WALL?E's treasure trove of a truck. ?

When we first meet WALL?E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter,Earth Class), he is a forgotten robot left behind on an abandoned Earth. Whilehumans have gone off to live in luxury on a floating cruise ship in space, WALL?Espends his days compacting trash back on the desolateplanet as he was designed to do.

Over the years of collecting left-over human trinkets andwatching a video of Hello, Dolly! on repeat, WALL?E comes to long forcompanionship beyond his squeaky sidekick ? a cockroach.

When EVE, the Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, landsto scan Earth for signs of flora or fauna, it is love at first sight ? for WALL?E,at least.

Thus begins a quest through space as WALL?E chases EVE backto the human's hideout ? a giant ship where people are so pampered and lazy,they can't even walk and must be transported around on floating inner-tubes.

In this vision of a future, it takes a robot to remind humansof their humanity.

When WALL?E arrives at the human outpost, he meets theeclectic gaggle of robots keeping the ship in working order.

All the robots in the film retain their robot-ness ? theanimators never resort to sticking googly eyes or a grinning mouth on a machineto give it a personality. Nonetheless, each electronic critter brims withuniqueness, purpose, and emotion.

Jason Deamer, the film's character art director, recalledhow the team figured out ways to communicate WALL?E's feelings.

"Andrew [Stanton, director/co-writer] came in one day withthe inspiration for WALL?E's eyes," he said. "He had been to abaseball game and was using a pair of binoculars. He suddenly became aware thatif he tilted them slightly, you got a very different look and feeling out ofthem. That became one of the key design elements for the main character.?

For research, the filmmakers and animators went to roboticsconferences and visited NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.To imagine what humans would look like after atrophying for hundreds of yearsin space, the team talked to NASA experts about the effects of zero gravity onthe body.

The film includes many nods to science and science fiction.When Wall-E escapes Earth by hitchhiking on EVE's spaceship, he bumps intoSputnik and copious space debris on his way out.

Later scenes with the human spaceship's automatic pilot,named Auto, were reminiscent of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.In a gesture of recognition to the 1979 film Alien, the producers castSigourney Weaver as the ship's computer.

The idea for Wall-E started with the question, "What ifmankind had to leave Earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off?"Stanton said. "I became fascinated with the loneliness that this situationevoked and the immediate empathy you had for this character? I was immediatelyhooked and seduced by the idea of a machine falling in love with anothermachine. And especially with the backdrop of a universe that has lost theunderstanding of the point of living."

Ultimately, the movie explores how loneliness and love areboth universal.

When Wall-E flexes his scoop fingers and reaches out forEVE's hand, even Romeo and Juliet would be hard pressed to rival the romanticgesture.


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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.