WALL·E ★★★★½

WALL-E might not quite be Pixar’s best film but it does feature the studio’s most endearing creation. The titular robotic waste collector maybe part ET and part Johnny Five but he is also all heart. Warped by years of loneliness as he diligently continues his futile clear-up job of planet Earth, WALL-E, is a being driven by a great longing to experience that rarest of human emotions - love. Despite his rusting shell and whirring cogs he may well be the studio’s most human and sympathetic character yet.

WALL-E, for better or worse, is a film of two halves. Its opening half an hour is a triumph of animation as we witness an almost wordless masterclass in storytelling. WALL-E goes about his daily duties, discovering and hoarding remnants of human civilization and bringing new meaning and uses to their original functions. There is a childlike wonder to the little robot’s exploration of the world as he attempts to keep himself occupied with nothing more than a copy of Hello Dolly and a resilient pet cockroach as company. Soon his repetitive and lonely life is altered forever when a new, sleek robot appears from the heavens. EVE, figuratively acting as the dove sent from Noah’s Ark to find new life, becomes WALL-E’s new obsession and in the following 70-minutes one of the sweetest odd couple romances in modern cinema will play out in front of an engrossed and teary-eyed audience.

During the near-wordless Earthbound sections, Pixar’s animators flex their considerable talents letting the tiniest details convey the all consuming emotions of our two metal lovebirds. Watching WALL-E attempt to woo his disinterested object of desire is beautifully bittersweet and frequently funny. The way he cares for EVE, particularly during her period of immobility, is touching and sweetly observed and beautifully mirrored in the tear-inducing finale. Where other films strive for grand emotional statements of love, WALL-E, simply wants to hold hands. It is such a simple and understated expression of intimacy and affection but all the more powerful and moving because of it. The opening twenty minutes are amongst the finest ever committed to film (animated or live action) that sadly the rest of the film can’t quite live up to.

Not that the sections aboard the Axiom spacecruiser are bad - by regular movie standards they are nothing short of sensational - but the atmospheric, emotional and frankly perfect beginning sets the bar at an unrealistic level. Once aboard humanity’s new home, the film follows a more traditional trajectory adding more characters and more perilous action in order to keep the whole family engaged. When I first watched the film at the cinema I felt that this dramatic switch was both jarring and a cop out as if director, Andrew Stanton, and the Pixar braintrust didn’t have enough faith in its audience to be enthralled by a simple and wordless romance between two machines. However, after numerous viewings my opinion has softened. Whilst there is still a disparity in quality there are numerous moments of great beauty to be experienced during these sections - a graceful dance in space, small character moments that say so much more than declarations of undying love etc. - that to unduly criticise the second half would be harsh in the extreme.

The film works best when focused on the robot protagonists. The human subplots, whilst humorous, feel a little incongruous to the story that has enthralled us so far. Whilst the design of the human characters works thematically - humans have become fleshy automatons; giant blobs of fat that are consumed by the convenience of the technology around them. Whilst it takes a machine, the most human figure in the entire story, to awaken them to the beauty of life - the overtly cartoony design never quite sit well with the almost photorealistic locations and the charming characterful robotic cast.

Yet any slight missteps during the film’s second half is all but forgotten by the time of the movie’s quite stunning climax. It is the moment the whole audience has been waiting for and it provides a beautiful and poignant exclamation mark to the story. Reversing the relationship so lovingly realised during the opening, the film delivers the emotional kick it has been threatening throughout. The ending demonstrates a team of artists (and I mean artists in every possible way) at the height of their powers and with the utmost belief in their considerable skills. The end recaptures the simplistic perfection of the film’s bravura beginning. The way WALL-E’s dead and non-acknowledging eyes gradually flicker back to life is so subtle in movement that it is barely noticeable but so powerful emotionally that I defy anybody not to have a lump in their throat by the time the credits roll.

WALL-E is a charming and heartfelt epic that never loses sight of what makes it one of the most cherished animated features in recent years - its endearing and steadfast lead who you just can’t help but love.

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