Arriving at a point when one might think that Pixar could only top itself by supersizing, WALL-E makes the remarkable gambit of going minimal: The first half eschews dialogue almost entirely, establishing our presence on an abandoned Earth circa 700 years from now via meticulous design work and a sensational soundtrack, much of it the vocal stylings of Ben Burtt, who supplied R2D2’s beeps.
Our hero is WALL-E, an irrepressible, E.T.-ish trash compactor whose start-up chord suggests he’s a descendant of the Steve Jobs universe. Perplexed and alone in a polluted city – save a friendly cockroach – he makes a hobby of collecting the trinkets of the human age: a Rubik’s Cube, silverware, a VCR that only knows songs from Hello, Dolly! The arrival of a mysterious robot named Eve brings first a duel, then intergalactic courtship, then a journey into space, where the humans – in a funnier but somehow even darker corner of the universe – now reside.
Mankind is now corporate-controlled, overweight and resigned to live in a kind of pastel Matrix. (Apart from the score’s nods to Star Wars and the obligatory ‘Blue Danube’ sequence, WALL-E smoothly integrates its pop-culture references into its story.) WALL-E and Eve wind up bringing humanity back to the humans, and Stanton (Finding Nemo) pulls off some terrific set pieces along the way. Eco-friendly, pro-exercise and featuring a truly glorious use of a fire extinguisher, WALL-E sparks with genuine creativity. Ben Kenigsberg
Time Out Chicago
Dir: Andrew Stanton, Category I, 103 mins, Opens Thursday July 24