There is a faint memory in the back of my brain of seeing a preview for WALL-E (2008) and thinking that Disney was doing a strange sequel to a personal childhood favorite of mine, Short Circuit (1986). The title character of the former looks like a cute version of Johnny 5 (voiced by Tim Blaney) in the latter. They have similar eyes and hands, anyway. WALL-E also came out at a time when I was not immediately rushing out to see every new Disney film. I watch them now, but only because, you know, I have this blog thing. Because so many of their offerings remain beloved for so long, I go back and watch them every once in a while when looking for a flick to review. Occasionally, I am surprised. More often, they are exactly what I expected and I move on with my life, deleting them from my brain as fast as these articles can be uploaded to The Legionnaire. This one rides the line between the two. What does that mean? To borrow Cameron’s often used phrase, let us find out.
Set a few hundred years into the future, WALL-E opens with the title character (voiced by Ben Burtt) in what seems to be a kind of post-apocalyptic cityscape. There is no life around as WALL-E is a robot. There are no humans, or organic life of any kind, unless you count the cockroaches. That means no people, too. There are also no other automatons. WALL-E is, by all appearances, alone on the planet. He spends his days carrying out his programming. This involves cleaning up the wreckage of civilization left by humanity before they departed the planet. This was a job that was supposed to take five years. Instead, the massive ship on which they left has been out in the stars for centuries. That is a long time for one to be by one’s self, and WALL-E has developed a few personality quirks. His one friend is a cockroach, though it, too, is a bit eccentric. He has also taken to collecting items he finds among the refuse that catch his fancy. He dreams, too, especially of holding the hand of another as inspired by an old VHS tape he finds of Hello, Dolly! (1969). He watches this nightly until it is time to recharge, and then it is up the next day to do it all over again, making trash into compact cubes and stacking them all over the city. This is the routine until two major events happen. The first is his discovery of a live plant just beginning to push its shoots through the soil. WALL-E acts quickly, sensing that this is something that must be preserved, and places it in a worn-out shoe. The other is the arrival of a ship. Its sole occupant is EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight). She has been sent by the humans on their ship in order to see if there is anything worth returning on Earth. She is soon spotted by WALL-E, and he is immediately smitten. Unfortunately for WALL-E, she is focused on her task and wants nothing to do with him, particularly holding his hand. He is determined, though, and is there to comfort her when her mad zoomies around the planet reveal nothing of what she is looking for, saddening her. What cheers her up, momentarily, is WALL-E presenting the budding plant. She takes it from him, puts it inside her body, beams her discovery back to the mothership, and goes into hibernation until she can be picked up. He keeps her protected until the dropship returns, and she is taken inside. Not wanting to leave her, he finds a way to get aboard, and it is off to space. WALL-E is treated to the spectacles of the expanse as they make the long trek to the Axiom, the vessel that houses humanity. Upon their arrival, EVE is still separated from WALL-E, and he must bumble his way through several other droids and into the human quarters in order to find his beloved. In navigating this bizarre new world, he inadvertently sets in motion a number of changes. Meanwhile, EVE is taken to the human captain, Captain B. McCrea (voiced by Jeff Garlin). He, like his fellows, have become so used to machines and technology doing everything for them that he is confused initially as to what to do about this new development. Still, his reading of the manual tells him that it is time to return the Axiom to Earth. None of this is to the liking of AUTO (voiced by MacInTalk), who has been secretly programmed by Shelby Forthright (Fred Willard), head of the corporation that sent the ship away all those years ago, to make sure that the Axiom stays in space. Thus, AUTO locks up Captain McCrea, fries WALL-E, and forces EVE into standby mode, tossing the latter two down the garbage chute. WALL-E is barely hanging on, but gets a little help from some of the robot friends he made earlier. Meanwhile, Captain McCrea is attempting to wrest control of the Axiom back from AUTO. WALL-E ends up sacrificing himself so that Captain McCrea can get the ship into manual control. The plant is then uploaded into the computer, and they return to Earth. A heartbroken EVE takes WALL-E back to his abode to repair him. She is successful, but at first he does not recognize her. What revives him is her holding his hand, with an added electronic kiss for good measure. We close with them looking on as humanity emerges from their ship to begin life on Earth.
WALL-E is as cute of a movie as they come. It is also one with a deeper message than robots wanting to hold hands. The obvious one is humanity’s reliance on technology. Not covered in my synopsis above is how humans live aboard the Axiom. Men and women alike, young and old, never take a step of their own. Instead, they maneuver around the ship on hover sleds, with their computer screens and artificial environments constantly in their faces. There is a subtle suggestion that this is what Forthright wants as he blames everyone else for the destruction of the Earth, even though the rest of the film makes it clears that the responsibility lies with his corporation. In either case, they all want to pass responsibility off on to somebody, or something, else. The Bible is full of examples of personally managing one’s affairs. Yet, that is not where the message ends. You see, particularly for those aboard the Axiom, all this gadgetry has made people insulated from one another. This is illustrated when WALL-E accidentally tips over John’s (voiced by John Ratzenberger), and it causes him to meet Mary (voiced by Kathy Najimy) face-to-face. Yes, God wants us to be able to do things on our own. At the same time, He also created us to be in community with one another. Thus, after you read this review, put down your computation device, call a friend, and do something. There is a grace in doing so.
I guess the reason why WALL-E does not resonate more with me is because cuteness is often lost on me. This is my default for all Disney movies. The messages are there, but it more often resorts to that which gets the “aw” out of the audience. I have never been much of an “aw-er,” if you will, though I do acknowledge those moments. I prefer the other substance. Still, since this one has enough of both, consider this a recommendation.