A G-rated synthesis of A.I., Idiocracy, 2001, and Chaplin's Modern Times, WALL-E tells the tale of a robot left behind to clean up Earth while the human race bides its time in space, waiting for machines to fix the mess they've left behind. But this being Pixar, the deeper issues are handled just as expertly as the conventional storyline, which in this case is a simple love story between two robots.
A first-time viewer could be forgiven for not grasping the consistent vision of WALL-E's subtext on a first viewing, primarily because the look of the film is so detailed and accomplished that you can be awestruck just admiring the visual, and aural, craftsmanship. Hiring ace cinematographer Roger Deakins as a "consultant" paid off like a winning lottery ticket. The opening passages of the film -- on an Earth populated by nothing but a robot, a cockroach, and lots of garbage -- have a realism that trumps everything Pixar has done to this point. Oftentimes you forget you're watching an animated movie because of the fluid, realistic camera work. Director Andrew Stanton succeeds grandly not because he's showing off with these nearly dialogue-free sequences, but because he understands how viewers respond to particular lenses and camera maneuvers. He's applying film theory in order to build up an audience's sympathies for his main character, and he does so masterfully. Don't let the phrase "dialogue-free" throw you -- this is far from a silent movie. The flawless and varied sound design -- who knew a robot's voice could have so many different inflections when saying the same few words -- is as much a treat for the ears as the visuals are for the eyes.
Like Stanton's previous film, Finding Nemo, WALL-E manages to work at the level of fable by communicating grand themes through the actions of sympathetic characters. This film works as a simple adventure story, and as a love story, but it also works as a rather brilliant comment on the inherent dangers of mass commercialism and the ramifications of humans becoming slothful and lazy because of technology. In this movie, the people of the future look like enormous, babyish blobs -- a device Stanton exploits to great comedic and thematic effect. The entire production has been so brilliantly conceived and executed that it feels as much like an extended Pixar short as it does a feature. Unlike its humans of the future, the movie itself doesn't have an ounce of fat on it. The men and women at Pixar are master jewelers, cutting and polishing their wares to perfection before the world gets to enjoy them. WALL-E is another gem.