Movie Mom

700 years after the last humans left the planet they had made uninhabitable through environmental degradation, one small robot is still continuing to crunch the mountains of trash. He is a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter Earth-Class, or Wall•E. His eyes are binoculars, his legs are treads, and his torso is a garbage compacter. But somehow, somewhere, he has developed the heart of a true romantic hero. His speech may be made up of beeps and squeaks but he thinks about the trash he picks up, puzzling (as well he might) over a spork and a Rubik’s Cube. He feels affection for the only life form he sees, a friendly brown cockroach. And every night he comes back to his little home and puts on an old video tape of “Hello Dolly,” watching the big dance numbers and dreaming robotic dreams of having a hand to hold, just like the characters in the movie. Just as we always suspected, after total annihilation of everything else on the planet, the only survivors will be cockroaches, Broadway show tunes, and Twinkies (okay, the lawyers made them call it something else on the package, but trust me, it’s a Twinkie). The genius of Pixar, the most successful movie studio in history, the only one ever to make more than $100 million with every one of its releases, is that they may spend blockbuster money on a film (reportedly $180 million for this one) but hold on to the soul of an independent movie made on a microscopic budget. They are happy to take on the consumerist culture that has made their corporate owner, Disney, a world power larger and more influential than most countries. They don’t rely on pre-sold characters (fairy tales, television shows) or focus-grouped storylines with all of the risk and quirkiness squeezed out of them — along with all of the authenticity and character. Like the humble little hero of this film, they hold onto their dreams. If that makes the films more challenging, less easily accessible, good for them and good for us, too.Indeed, that is one of the themes of this film, whose robot characters have much more wisdom, courage, intelligence, and personality than the humans. After 700 years away from Earth, humans have devolved into a sort of perpetual infancy, their minds and bodies all but atrophied. They float through their space station in hover chairs, mesmerized by media screens before their eyes that block their ability to see anything else. Food and drink are constantly brought to them by robot drones and they, like their space station, are on automatic pilot. One of the lovely ironies of this story is that the machine who watches “Hello Dolly” on a broken-down videotape is inspired by it to seek companionship and intimacy while the humans’ media immersion puts them in a constant state of dazed isolation. Wall•E’s life is changed when an egg-shaped space probe named Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (EVE) arrives. At first, they seem like opposites. He is scuffed and rusty and she is sleek and pristine. He is a romantic and she is all business. But like all great screen romances, their initial disconnections spark their affection. In this case literally. Their kiss is electrifying.Wall•E and EVE end up on EVE’s space station where her mission is revealed — and then imperiled. It is the misfit robots and one brave human who discovers that he can think for himself who must find a way to bring the humans and their home planet back to life. Just as the first courageous little tendril of a plant is willing to give Earth another chance, so the first tender stirrings of empathy, affection, curiosity, and honor in the small robots and the oversize humans inspire each other — and us. Pixar is also famous for the short films that precede its features and this one is a gem. Be sure to get there on time for the hilarious story of a magician with a hungry bunny. Parents should know that this movie has some tense scenes of characters in peril and that its themes of environmental degradation and human negligence may be disturbing. Some younger audience members may find it difficult to follow the extended scenes without any dialogue. Family discussion: What can we do now to prevent the kind of environmental degradation and human negligence shown in this movie? How do we know when to disobey orders or “directives?”If you like this, try: the other Pixar films, a classic science fiction film with similar themes and equally adorable robots, Silent Running (some mature material), and of course Hello, Dolly!

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