God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food….And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made and found it very good. – Genesis 1:29-31
“John, get ready to have some kids,” Mary tells her beau late in this computer-animated film created by Pixar Animation Studios for Walt Disney Pictures. All that leads up to Mary’s happy, life-affirming alert is the stuff of this tale of 700-years-in-the-future Earth, space, and humanity.
The movie opens with a bleak cityscape: a dust-enveloped, deserted town of abandoned skyscrapers interspersed with towering columns of compacted waste (what we used to call “garbage”). The city is clearly bereft of all human, animal and plant life, and it sits in a desert-dry wasteland. There are signs of past habitation – literal signs, that is, for Buy-N-Large, a corporate empire of “ultra-stores,” gas stations, and banks. One sign reads: “Buy, Shop, Live.”
We learn that people abandoned Earth centuries ago and are living in another galaxy on a – you guessed it – Buy-N-Large gargantuan mother ship, the Axiom.
Who compacted all the garbage we’ve been seeing? Well, he’s still at it, and he’s a what, not a who: a small but sturdy robot whose name, as we’ve guessed from the movie’s title, is Wall-E. We soon learn that his name stands for Waste Allocation Load-Lifter Earth-Class. Wall-E has definite human characteristics, especially his big, expressive, appealing eyes.
Wall-E has a friend – a cockroach, an exception to the absence of life. And one day he finds another sign of life: a little plant, which he saves by putting it into a boot.
Wall-E’s fellow trash-squashing robots are all defunct. He alone has been faithfully crunching away all these centuries. (He must have been well-oiled!) But in the midst of his herculean labors he’s come upon evidence of the city’s past inhabitants, such as an ancient video of the musical Hello, Dolly! His eyes reflect loneliness as he watches human couples dancing and holding hands.
Wall-E’s isolation suddenly ends when a rocket ship lands out of the blue, so to speak. It deploys a flying robot whose name is Eve. Turns out she has been sent to search for any life on Earth. She has a ray gun and is handy with it. Wall-E follows her around, both mooningly and protectively. He introduces himself, gives her a tour and imitates dancing, which she reciprocates. He flicks a cigarette lighter – a spark of love.
But when Wall-E shows Eve the plant, a green eco-symbol appears on her robot shell and she goes inert, except for signaling the spacecraft that brought her to Earth. Finding a plant is the completion of her mission. When the ship returns and retrieves Eve and the plant, gallant Wall-E latches onto the ship’s outside and hangs on as it blasts off and zooms “home” past the Moon and our solar system and away to a distant galaxy.
Eve and stowaway Wall-E are now aboard the Axiom, an engineering marvel in which robots whiz around on tracks and the human passengers loll about complacently in the equivalents of lawn chairs. Thanks to weightlessness and their unhealthy liquid diet, the people are so fat they resemble beached whales – and act like them.
Wall-E is discovered and pursued, and that triggers a “foreign contaminant” alert. The Axiom’s captain is dumbfounded to hear that Eve has brought back a plant, because a discovery of life back on Earth means the Axiom must go home to repopulate and rehabilitate the planet. The captain, as fat as his passengers, is hesitant, and even more so is Auto, the ship’s computer-pilot, who mutinies and tries to destroy Earth’s only hope, the plant. Wall-E saves the plant and helps Eve escape from the Axiom. Out in space they do a beautifully choreographed pas de deux that finds them touching hands at last.
Back inside the Axiom, Eve gives the plant to the captain, who along with the passengers has warmed to the idea of returning. The captain literally stands up to Auto and manages to press a button that shuts off the people’s supply of fatty liquid and puts the Axiom in “green” mode. The passengers slide out of their chairs, never to return. A bunch of little ones slide down with them, and that’s when Mary says, “John, get ready to have kids.”
SPOILER ALERT: Auto loses, but Wall-E gets squashed. The Axiom returns to Earth via hyper-drive, and once home the captain and the people start making plans to farm. Eve tries to repair Wall-E, but nothing works – until her “hand” gets caught in his. The power of touch and a kiss revives him, and their love blooms. In the credits, we see the Earth growing green again, and silhouetted babies toddling along and re-seeding the fields.
It’s hard not to think of the Axiom as another Noah’s Ark: just as in Genesis its passengers debarked to repopulate the Earth as God had told Adam and Eve to do. Off-putting notes are the notion that people can make the Earth uninhabitable and that commerce is solely at fault. Also, here as in so many films, it’s as if Christianity has never existed and people have never thought to pray. Still, “Wall-E” beautifully and memorably affirms love and life and portrays babies as the hope of humanity and the wonderful treasures they are.
Andrew Stanton directed, and he co-wrote the original “Wall-E” story with Peter Docter. Stanton and Jim Reardon penned the screenplay. Ben Burtt (Wall-E), Elissa Knight (Eve), Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenburger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver, and others supplied the characters’ voices. Fred Willard played a live character, the Buy-N-Large founder. The film’s MPAA rating is G.
— Dan Engler