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WALL*E ****

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

WALL*E, the unlikely savior of the human race, is also one of Pixar's most brilliant creations.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: The voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger. Rated G.

What a wonderful world WALL*E imagines. That might seem an odd thing to say about a movie set, at least initially, on the post-apocalyptic compost heap that earth has become after centuries of misuse. But even there, amid the piles of trash that loom like gloomy monuments to man’s careless legacy, there is life, hope, even joy. That’s where WALL*E comes in. 

WALL*E is the last functioning robot on earth, dutifully crunching garbage into tidy cubes and stacking them until they resemble rust-colored skyscrapers. There’s nobody around to appreciate his hard work – the planet, now thought to be infertile, has been abandoned for years – but what’s a ’bot to do?

The answer is more complicated than one might imagine. WALL*E has developed a soul behind those big, melancholy eyes he uses to spot odd tidbits in the rubble (a Rubik’s cube, a paddle ball) and watch reruns of his favorite musical, Hello, Dolly! So it comes as little surprise that he falls for EVE, a sleek scout ’bot with electric-blue eyes, deployed to earth to find signs of life.

As it happens, one exists, and not just in the heart of our pint-size hero. During his daily routine, WALL*E stumbles upon a growing plant and, after a long, quizzical stare, scoops it up. EVE, recognizing the bigger picture, snatches it away. Vegetation is exactly what the human race – relegated to the Axiom, a flying resort in the far reaches of space – has been waiting for to signal that the time is right for their homecoming, and it’s her job to deliver the good news.

It’s not that easy, given the presence of a malevolent mainframe aboard the Axiom (think HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey) who has deemed earth permanently unfit for human habitation. But WALL*E, desperate to impress the femme ’bot he romanticizes in a way that is touchingly human, hitches a ride into space and plots to save the day.

Director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) has described WALL*E as his attempt to make an R2-D2 movie, but there is an irrepressible humanity in his storytelling that George Lucas should envy. While one might be thrown at first by Stanton’s approach – there is very little dialogue during the first hour, just beeps, bangs and garbled robot-speak – his ballad of a lonely ’bot is utterly engrossing.

It is also a filmmaking revelation, a sign of how far animation has come. WALL*E isn’t quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – its vibrant, lovingly detailed universe recalls the visual grandeur of 2001, Blade Runner and Tron – but its backdrops are breathtaking in their realism. WALL*E, in all his childlike innocence, is perhaps the film’s greatest achievement, a robot whose glassy eyes and tiny, sometimes heartbroken voice convey as much emotion as any man’s could.

There is real poignancy in his story, which is both a space-age adventure and a classic romance. Each is deeply compelling. The result is a wondrous work of the imagination and, to date, the year’s best film.

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