The late, great Stanley Kubrick (2001:A Space Odyssey) used to say that if you can turn off the sound and still follow the story, you've made a film, but if you can still follow the story with only the sound, you haven't.
WALL-E, a sci-fi savvy Pixar comedy, has almost no dialogue. But with images and sound effects alone, it touches, it teaches and it tickles. It's the best Pixar film since Finding Nemo.
If Kung Fu Panda, which riffed on martial-arts movie conventions, was clever, WALL-E, which absorbs, recycles and re-invents elements of 2001, Silent Runningand Star Wars, is genius.
Some 700 years in the future, Earth is a vast wasteland. Literally. Garbage clogs the ruined streets of ruined empty cities, from the sewers all the way into orbit (space junk). Humans have so trashed the joint that they've abandoned the planet for a gigantic spaceship, leaving robots behind to clean up the mess.
And the last one working on this project is WALL-E, a cute little Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-class. He's a trash compactor with camera-eyes, rusting gears and a job, a "directive." He compacts the trash into cubes that he then stacks into vast obelisks of junk.
WALL-E has a pet roach (roaches will survive the apocalypse) and a curiosity about the people who left all these toasters, VHS tapes, cigarette lighters (and Luxo lamps) behind. WALL-E is lonely.
Then a spaceship drops a "probe" robot, a sleek, white, floating dynamo (it's meant to look like an Apple product) with a ray gun and a temper. She's called EVE, and her "directive" is finding signs of life. WALL-E, who spends his off-hours watching Hello Dolly on tape, is in love.
Events conspire to hurl them back to the Mother Ship, where WALL-E is treated to the future of the human race. We're all clueless, sedentary fatties, hooked on video and cell phones, sipping super-sized drinks, "consuming" whatever the mega-corp BNL ("Buy 'N' Large") view-screens tell us to buy as we float around in our we're-too-fat-to-walk carts.
WALL-E must win over EVE and shake humans out of their complacency, out of their fat-carts, back into our humanity. That's sort of the mission of the movie, too.
When you limit the dialogue ( Jeff Garlin voices the ship's captain, Sigourney Weaver is the voice of the computer, StarWars sound designer Ben Burtt does the robots' electronic chatter), you're forced to tell your story with images, to land your laughs with sight gags, to find your pathos in a look, metallic interpretations of love, longing and grief. Director Andrew Stanton, who made more-verbal but equally heartfelt Finding Nemo, coordinates a flurry of funny bits that have WALL-E reacting to human litter. And Stanton finds the poignancy in a "thing" that cares more about our world than we do.
There's a running gag — ancient video of the BNL CEO and "Mr. President" (Fred Willard) reassures people that things are fine, and that we should "stay the course." The big message, "Forget that, we need to clean up our mess," won't be lost on even the youngest WALL-E viewers.
The idea that an ancient Hollywood musical, with its love duets and foot-tapping dance numbers, would be the thing that awakens emotions in both humans and robots, is pure genius.
With WALL-E, the Toy Story studio ditches the chatty rat in a chef's hat and talking cars and gets back to its own prime directive — visually oriented kid-friendly cartoons, movies with heart.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times