WALL.E (U)

Earth is an abandoned rubbish tip void of life ... enter WALL.E, a futuristic Robot-son Crusoe with a hint of Woody Allen

One of the best jokes in WALL•E, the new digital animation from Pixar, is the end-credits sequence, which gives us the history of figurative art in a nutshell. A series of animated pastiches takes us from cave painting to the present, through ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, Turner and Seurat, all the way to ... Pacman. The entire development of image-making, to end in this: a few coloured dots running around a screen? Yet a handful of dots is Pixar's stock in trade, and the single dot – the pixel – which is computer animation's building block, has spawned cinema's most sophisticated image technology yet.

It's just over 20 years since the Pixar pioneer, John Lasseter, started combining those dots to tell simple stories about animated household objects. Now CGI animation has attained the photo-realist complexity seen in WALL•E, which is Pixar's most elegant film to date, but also its subtlest and richest.

Ostensibly a children's comedy about a lonely little robot, WALL•E is philosophical sci-fi with a depth that eludes most of Hollywood's adult output. It's Pixar's most emotionally satisfying production, yet human presence in it is sidelined while the machines take centre stage: its hero is a rusty metal box on Caterpillar treads, and the villain is a steering wheel.

Strikingly melancholy, WALL•E, directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton, is surely the only children's animation ever to open with an image of apocalyptic desolation. After zooming in from space on to an Earth belted with floating junk, the imaginary camera scans a wasteland, our planet's surface reduced to one vast rust-brown landfill site. There's only one living being left in this desolation, and he's not strictly living: a stout little device named WALL•E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class). WALL•E is the planet's last functioning robot, its purpose – "his" purpose, if you'll pardon the anthromorphism – to tidy up the debris. Earth has been abandoned for centuries, ever since all-powerful supermarket conglomerate BNL (Buy-N-Large) reduced the globe to this condition. BNL's hologram adverts, echoing Blade Runner's, still play eternally to an audience of one; they feature Pixar's first use of live-action footage, featuring Fred Willard, the ineffable master of unsinkable all-American idiocy.

The last of an obsolete robot race, WALL•E daily trundles through his duties. The faithful servant doggedly carrying on when the masters have bailed out: it's a terribly poignant image, as seen in the first shots of WALL•E rolling through the blasted land, accompanying himself with a taped selection from that forgotten and unloved movie musical Hello, Dolly!.

Meanwhile, WALL•E shores fragments of human culture: in his dump-truck home, he collects plastic cutlery, rubber ducks, garden gnomes. But this dustpile Crusoe isn't alone for long. One day another automaton descends from the sky: an opalescent egg-shaped thing named EVE, a glowing spectral wonder with arms and fingers that float free in mid-air, then vanish magically into her body.

WALL•E and EVE make a complementary pair – robotry of the nuts-and-bolts past, and of the streamlined virtual future – and they eventually nurture a robo-romance. But this cybernetic cute-meet is never mawkish or Bambi-esque. It's because the film dispenses with any obvious human elements in their make-up that it paradoxically succeeds in giving its robots the semblance of real emotion. John Lasseter copped out in 2006's Cars by giving its automobile characters funny windshield faces, but WALL•E rises to the challenge of robotic form. Its hero's physiognomy never changes: the binoculars that serve him as "eyes" simply shift position, making him seem as anxious as Woody Allen or as innocent as Harold Lloyd. A glimmer of reflection in his lenses can make him seem wistful or depressed, but it's all done with light: you can tell that much research has gone into the ways we perceive expression, and that's the perfectionist edge that Pixar has over the broader cartoonish work of its rivals.

The film's first third represents Pixar's most daring achievement yet. It depicts a place voided of human presence, a bleak vision breathtakingly conceived: in its image of a purely robotic world, WALL•E, rather than Spielberg's AI, is the true inheritor of Stanley Kubrick's futurism. This opening sequence is almost entirely wordless: speech is replaced by electronic bleeps and chirrups, punctuated by the odd skittering noise from WALL•E's cockroach sidekick, all fabricated by sound designer Ben Burtt. It's just a shame that the film didn't trust to the soundscape and dispense with music entirely: it would have been perfect.

The sublime first act develops a strain of delicate visual humour in which WALL•E is magically imbued with E.T.'s vulnerability, Buster Keaton's balletic panache, Jacques Tati's minimalist comic sensibility. Things shift gear when the action moves to a holiday-camp space station, where humans have degenerated into pampered, barely functional blobs in romper suits. Beneath the bright candy hues of this satire is a horrifying insight into the way that consumerism infantilises and disables us. If the film's rubbery lumps of humanity seem blandly featureless, that's the point: coddled into submission, they've lost their reality, their texture.

The film is least distinctive when in space-adventure mode – the slapstick gets messily frantic – but there are still touches of astonishing beauty, displaying the sheer grace that digital style can aspire to. The two robots' free-fall duet with a fire extinguisher is as rapturous a comic ballet as Chaplin's skating in The Rink.

WALL•E is a beautiful riposte to the bombastic faux-sophistication of so much CGI razzle-dazzle. Take the oppressively flashy design of Transformers, spinning a line of robot toys into a film. Where its creations frenet-ically whizz-bang themselves into cars, planes, endless variations of martial hardware, WALL•E is a Transformer of Zen simplicity: a robot who folds himself into a rusty box. One elegant sight gag involves a Rubik's Cube, and there you have a perfect image of the film's brilliance. At once fiendishly complex and breathtakingly simple, WALL•E is also made of coloured blocks, recombined in infinite variations and more fascinating than you'd think possible.

Need to know

Pixar Animation Studios led the field in computer-generated imagery in the 1980s with early shorts from co-founder John Lasseter (pictured below) including 'Tin Toy', 'Knick Knack' and the 1986 'Luxo Jr', which starred the Anglepoise lamp that became the company's logo. 'Toy Story' (1995) made history as the first all-CGI animation feature, and the company followed up with 'A Bug's Life', 'Toy Story 2', 'Monsters, Inc', 'Finding Nemo' and 'The Incredibles'. The company's dud, arguably, is the uncharacteristically strident gas-guzzler 'Cars' – after which last year's 'Ratatouille' was a return to gourmet form. Pixar also make shorts to preface their features: accompanying WALL•E is 'Presto', about the war of attrition between a magician and his rabbit.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence