Who would guess that a movie with minimal dialogue and a love story between robots could emerge as one of the best films of the summer? And who would think a tale could be both post-apocalyptic and charming?
But when it's from Pixar Animation, which brought us "Ratatouille", "The Incredibles" and "Toy Story", nothing is a stretch.
The engaging and visually stunning computer-animated "WALL·E" (* * * * out of four) is a significant departure for the studio, with its sci-fi plot and soundtrack of beeps and buzzes that serve as communication between the bots.
The film cements the place of writer/director Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") in the Pixar pantheon. "WALL·E" is inventive, poignant and funny in its tale of a spunky robot whose name stands for "Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class".
The story is set in 2700, when Earth has become a ghost town. Somehow, WALL·E was overlooked in the planet's evacuation, so he keeps bravely doing what he was programmed to do: transport trash. In his spare time, he befriends a cockroach and sifts through garbage, collecting artifacts.
He meets a sleek robot named EVE, and in his enthusiasm to win her over, he gives her his prized find: a tiny, struggling plant.
EVE takes it back to her space station, where earthlings have been lounging around for centuries, waiting to return to Earth. The computerized powers at the station regard the plant as proof that Earth is ready to be re-colonized.
In truth, Earth has become a stark wasteland. A cautionary tale with striking ecological implications, the message is artfully interwoven into the plot.
The story is set amid breathtaking visuals: Giant skyscrapers built of trash fill Earth's horizon, and WALL·E's plunge into outer space is gorgeous, his dance through space exhilarating.
Meanwhile, the descendants of those who populated Earth have become massive, flabby beings with tiny, almost-vestigial limbs. They spend their days in moving recliners equipped with screens, in their own virtual worlds, avoiding human contact. The space way station — a blend of giant mall and sterile vacation land — is the brainchild of corporate titan Shelby Forthright (a perfectly cast Fred Willard).
The plucky WALL·E embarks on an exciting and emotional space odyssey around the galaxy. As he and EVE develop an attachment and save each other from peril, their cries of "EVE-ahh" and "WALL-eee" are heart-tugging.
"WALL·E" is at once futuristic, funny and fantastical. It's an extraordinarily captivating adventure, laden with equal parts humor and heart and populated with memorable and endearing characters. (Rating: G. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Opens in select theaters tonight and nationwide Friday.)
Pixar is owned by the Walt Disney Company, also the parent company of ABC News.