On Screen: Robot Meets Robot


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.

Posted by Joseph, under reviews  |  Date: July 1, 2008

4 Responses to “On Screen: Robot Meets Robot”

  1. Casey Johns Says:

    Enjoyed your review of the animated cartoon movie titled “Wall-E”. Interesting, that the main characters, robots, did not have much to say to each other. Perhaps the robots were in the same frame of mind as Lassie, the wonder dog, and her canine friends? (LOL)

    A minor point– Did you mean to say that the planet earth had turned into a trash dump with a “FECUND atmosphere”?

    Perhaps “FETID atmosphere” would better describe the trash dump?

    The two words fecund and fetid do seem to be used interchangeably lately.


  2. Joseph Says:

    Hi, thanks for visiting the site! I’ll check with the Kristina, the author, to see if she can respond to your question. ~ Joseph

  3. Kristina Says:

    You’re right, fetid (“foul-smelling”) is more apt than fecund (“fertile”). Thanks for pointing that out!

  4. Casey Johns Says:

    You are welcome, Kristina.
    Thank you for your quick reply. I had second thoughts about my comment, since I have not seen the movie.

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