Brian Merlos

Rating: 4 and a half out of 5 stars


Quality 16 and Showcase Cinemas

The trailers shown before “WALL-E” were a cold reminder of just how hard it is to make a decent family film these days. The many G-rated travesties soon playing in theaters everywhere will include a pointless sequel to “Madagascar” and something called “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” It truly was a blessed sigh of relief when the familiar Pixar lamp once again hopped its way across the screen, even though it was introducing a most unfamiliar movie.

“WALL-E” is unlike any family film in recent years. The geniuses at Pixar have crafted a dark satire, a rousing sci-fi comedy and a love story – all resting on the boxy shoulders of an adorable little robot.

The minimalist plot develops block-by-block, much like the tiny trash cubes that WALL-E dutifully stacks. Several hundred years in the future, the human race has created so much pollution and waste that Earth has become uninhabitable. Mankind’s solution is to build a fleet of robots to clean up the mess, then escape the planet in a large spaceship and hope everything works out. WALL-E is the last surviving member of his clean-up crew. Doomed to an impossible task, he woefully toils away until he gets a surprise visit from a sleek, cute yet dangerous robot named EVE.

Does a machine possess the ability to love? Certainly there can be no other word for the attraction that literally sparks between WALL-E and EVE. Their chemistry is perfectly established in the first half of the movie, which is almost entirely without dialogue. It is a truly masterful visual script that makes words absolutely unnecessary.

Kudos, as well, for the outright anger that the filmmakers display toward modern society in the movie’s second half. WALL-E and EVE find themselves aboard the vessel that is aimlessly transporting the human race across the galaxy. Everyone in the future is a boneless 600-pound blob. They ride hoverchairs everywhere and have forgotten how to walk. Their eyes are constantly glued to TV screens, and all of their nourishment comes in Slurpee bottles. While this vision of the future isn’t exactly original (Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” immediately and unexpectedly comes to mind), it displays remarkable boldness for a Disney cartoon. Still, one wishes that the word “sustainable” wasn’t so obviously used to drive home the environmental message.

It’s the little throwaway moments that give “WALL-E” unexpected gravitas, like when a ship bursts through a solid layer of dead satellites as it leaves Earth’s atmosphere. The film aims higher and digs deeper than any previous Pixar production. Yet even forgetting about the technical aspects, there are some sequences that are simply virtuoso filmmaking. (No surprise that director Andrew Stanton also co-directed the excellent “Finding Nemo.”) The brilliant opening scene, for example, hauntingly underscores images of Earth’s desolation with perky music from “Hello, Dolly!” and produces a feeling of wonder that never fades for the length of the film.

Good luck trying to replicate that with Chihuahuas.

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