Wall-E dreams of holding hands. Credit: Pixar
Wall-E, the new Pixar/Disney film by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), was not the action-packed fanfare of robotic mayhem I expected. I saw instead a touching and budding story of unrequited (robot) love backlit by an eerie vision of humanity.
Unlike other Disney films, there is no grand heroic motivation for Wall-E, our romantic lead. He doesn’t strive to be a fancier ‘bot, nor does he dream of exploring the cosmos. Rather he is timid, afraid of loud noises and large spaceships
When we meet Wall-E, he is the sole occupant on the remains of Earth, a place overcome by towers of trash, a fecund atmosphere, encased in satellite trash and utterly abandoned. (Hints to this decay are revealed in the flickering advertisements and billboards for the super-conglomerate “Big ‘n Large.”)
Every day Wall-E heads out alone to do his garbage compacting with his cockroach sidekick, collecting discarded items he finds interesting in his cooler, before heading back to his trinket-filled home. There he watches the love duet from “Hello Dolly!,” revealing his sole dream and endearing motivation-to hold hands with someone.
The story progresses when a spaceship descends to Earth to drop off Eve, a capsule-shaped, advanced female robot intent on a mysterious mission. Wall-E falls hard despite Eve’s immediate rejection (in the form of attempted vaporization). Wall-E, however, is utterly, completely entranced. Despite space mishaps, confrontations with other bots and personal danger, Wall-E is as single-minded in his affection as perhaps only a robot or someone in love can be. Throughout the rest of the movie he has no other wish, no greater desire, than to win over – and hold hands with – his dear Eve.
It’s impressive that the movie works entirely well with nearly no vocals from the two main characters, except for “Wallll-eeee” and “Eeeev-aaa” in varying tones of distress, vexation (on Eve’s part) and, eventually, adoration.
The background on which the love story plays out is as interesting as the robots themselves. Stanton’s vision for humanity in 700-plus years is not pretty. In his future, robots operate ubiquitously in the background, helping humans to such an extent they don’t really have to do anything except reach for the next processed meal
The film’s environments ebb and flow gracefully from the lone, sad Earth to a waltz over the empty, yet lovely dance floor of space. Juxtaposing robots with the human need to connect, touches on the notion that, all things aside, the simple act of holding a beloved’s hand can be worth jumping galaxies.
Story by Technology Review staff writer and Boston-based science journalist Kristina Grifantini.