Out of this world

One of the final sequences in the new Disney/Pixar digi-mation involves the eponymous robot Wall-E failing to recognise his robot friend, Eve, despite the caressing touch of this latter's mechanical hand.

Now, would you be surprised to learn that I watched this little scene with tears pouring down my face? You oughtn't to be, because, as well as exhilarating, amusing, and just occasionally exhausting us, it is somehow now typical of those phenomenal wizards of invention at Pixar, led by writer/director Andrew Stanton, to have found a way of moving us, too. This studio is so good it's almost spooky.

Wall-E is, among other things, a science-fiction fable, a love story, and a cautionary tale, but it is at its most ingenious, for the first half-hour at least, as virtually a silent movie. It's set in a nameless city, a desolate, dusty necropolis of trash where advertising billboards flicker uselessly and no living thing moves. This is Earth, 700 years in the future. The human race, having turned the planet into a rubbish tip centuries ago, abandoned it and went to live in space.

"No living thing" is not quite right. A small robot diligently trundles through the bleak, unpeopled, streets, sweeping up armfuls of rubbish, compressing it into tidy cubes, and stacking them in tall towers. This plucky gizmo is a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class – Wall-E, for short. Whatever it (or, rather, he) doesn't compact into cubes he takes back to his den, a grotto of lovingly preserved junk.

He's an Autolycus of trash, you see, snapping up unconsidered trifles to keep himself entertained. His ancient VCR plays, over and over, two musical numbers from Hello, Dolly!, and what most fascinates him is the close-up of a boy and a girl holding hands as they dance together.

Wall-E is, like Crusoe on his island, a lonely creature. True, he has a pet cockroach that skitters around in his wake, but it's hardly the companionship he yearns for. And what sort would that be? We find out when an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluer – Eve – falls to earth. White and sleek and ovoid, Eve doesn't respond to the grubby, angular Wall-E's overtures of friendship, too busy searching for the green shoots of recovery that will bring back the Earthlings from exile. At this point you ask yourself: what's the film going to do for dialogue? The answer is almost nothing. Two words only pass between these automatons: he learns to call her "Eva", and she calls him "Wally". Yet, spoken in varying tones of exasperation, puzzlement, dread and entreaty, those two words become all they need.

Watch the WALL-E trailer

Like the old silents, Wall-E becomes a masterclass in non-verbal communication, conducted with all the expertise, wit and precision for which Pixar is now a byword. Just look at the way pathos is balanced on the angle of Wall-E's eyes, their lids like old-fashioned bicycle lamps. Look at the way he tests out a ping-pong ball and bat, or sizes up a diamond ring in its velvet box, or shows his new friend, Eve, the joys of popping bubble-wrap. These are tiny squiggles of detail, but are so delicately conjured and beautifully integrated that the film approaches the level of achievement of the Toy Story films, or the last great Pixar, Finding Nemo.

That it doesn't quite reach that plateau of fabulousness is down to its second half, which transports Wall-E and Eve back to Axiom, a luxury spacecruiser where a large army of 'bots service humans whose brains have turned as soft as their bodies; to put it another way, they're obese morons, reduced to lolling on their hover-chairs because automation has cancelled their need to walk, or even reach across a table for food. (I was reminded of a recent English novel that described America as "just people in huge cars wondering what to eat next".)

There's a not-so-understated moral here about a race that has pampered itself to death; though, in the character of the ship's captain, dissatisfied with the sterility of life aboard his vessel, one discerns the faint hope that human beings will begin to change their ways – if only out of boredom.

"I don't want to survive," he says. "I want to live!" It's fair to ask at this point whether children, superbly entertained by the adventures of Wall-E, would be quite as enthralled by this mood of existential unease. Praise Pixar for trying to raise the stakes, but the longer the film goes on the more one appreciates the impact of that amazing first half-hour.

The temptation to piggyback popular culture is, for the most part, heroically resisted. Only when the film enters its climactic stage does it look to movie references for traction. The quick nod to Titanic is, I presume, for the kids; the discovery by the captain that his ship's computer has turned malign is a homage to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and could surely only be intended for adults. It's a harmless borrowing, really, and fits with the admonitory tone of the second half, but its effect is to set you wondering when Wall-E will take centre-stage again.

The paradox here is that the human characters feel far less interesting and complex than the robot ones. But that's Pixar: loving the alien.

The movie is preceded by a short, Presto, about a Victorian magician, his rabbit, and their fight over the ownership of a carrot. It has a careening slapstick violence worthy of Tom and Jerry, lasts about five minutes, and might be one of the cleverest things that even Pixar has pulled out of its magic hat.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?