I watched it on tiny Screen 3 at the Bromley fleapit at 10:20 on Sunday morning, in the company of one small child and its father (the child was reasonably quiet; Dad, on the other hand, fell asleep towards the end and snored).
I knew before I went in that the film was about a robot assigned to clean up a littered Earth who meets a girl robot sent by the remaining humans out in space, and suspected it would be a dull but worthy eco-fable (with cute robots). Instead, I was blown away by the spooky, hellish panorama of a deserted junkyard world, and by the little robot labouring to compact the rubbish into blocks and build the blocks into towers, reclaiming the planet a couple of cubic feet at a time.
The scale and hopelessness of his task brought me almost to tears, especially when we saw that all his little robot chums had been deactivated leaving him entirely alone. The centuries of solitude have clearly turned him a little eccentric, like Red Dwarf's Kryten; instead of mindlessly clearing up the trash, he sifts it for treasures which he hoards in his container home. The scene in which he hesitates over whether to catalogue a plastic spork with the plastic spoons or the plastic forks is brilliant silent comedy.
For a long time it's all silent - there's no narrator, no dialogue, just gestures and beeps. We learn what happened to Earth from glimpsed billboards and the ever-present logo of the Buy-n-Large corporation on abandoned malls and shipping. Even when the iPodesque EVE turns up from outer space the two robots can only speak a couple of words to each other. Their reactions and relations take place largely in mime - EVE herself, presented with the gift of a weed in a boot, goes into lockdown to summon the mothership and is an entirely passive recipient of her suitor's affections.
We've previously been asked to empathise with toys, monsters, cars and rats - all of which conveniently spoke to us in English. It's much harder to establish a bond with a critter that doesn't, however enormous its eyes are. Yet I was completely involved with the robots' world and goals all the way through the movie. Pixar are so good at their job that I even found myself aah-ing over a cockroach, for heaven's sake!
It was harder at first to find sympathy for the human race, celebrating the 700th anniversary of their five-year space cruise aboard the starliner Axiom: sluglike creatures with atrophied limbs from years of gliding around on hoverchairs, eyes glued to screens as they slurp every meal From A Cup™ and robots tend to their whims. Chavs In Space!
WALL•E's arrival on board, chaotic and covered in Earth contaminants, shakes up this ecosystem nicely. A woman is knocked out of her virtual reality, looks around and discovers the stars for the first time. The captain starts to question the authority of the sinister autopilot. EVE, meanwhile, is trying to obey her directive and deliver her precious sample of Earth plant life...
It goes without saying that WALL•E's apparent death and the subsequent loss of his unique personality (very Short Circuit) had me gritting my teeth and reminding myself that of course he was going to be OK, this was Disney.
The CGI was so good that most of the time it passed unnoticed. There were one or two moments of obvious set-piece showing off (notably the dance in space, which was so charming I forgave it), but on the whole the complicated textures and backgrounds were just there, filled with little comic touches and subtly enhancing the experience. The contrast between the grimy, complicated but lifeless Earth and the people and robots whizzing about the smooth and shiny Axiom was a great example of limitation (the need to choose between busy foreground and busy background) turned into strength.
My only gripe was with the notion that humans, although a bit stupid and lazy, are basically good-hearted and would willingly give up a life of pampered luxury in order to till soil and clear rubbish. Frankly, this was far harder for me to swallow than flying robot hairdressers.