Wall-E: The Little Robot that Could.

There are very few films that have the ability to move people. We hear all kinds of different stories now sweetened with spectacular visuals and topped with a flicker and hint of a plot, but every once in a while something comes up that truly stirs our emotions.

This isn’t some heavy drama written by an award-winning playwright nor is it based on a true story: It is about a robot who discovers that not only does he have a heart but also the courage and determination to follow it.

Wall-E is Pixar’s latest animated outing and the premise was actually thought of long before Toy Story was made. Writer/director Andrew Stanton mused, “What if mankind left earth and forgot to switch off the last robot?” He shared the idea with his contemporaries but was unable to pay it any attention due to his involvement in projects such as Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., et al. Having freed himself from all commitments, Stanton dived head-first into the future and the world of Wall-E.

Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth class (aka Wall-E) toils each day, properly setting aside garbage and waste, having been forgotten by humanity as it departed Earth. They left because after all this time their effect on the environment was too much for the planet to handle. In fact, when we’re first introduced to Wall-E, if you look past the cuteness and the funny moments, you’ll notice that the surroundings — Earth — has been reduced to a planet-size garbage dump. The message is pretty clear: If we don’t take care of our planet and act responsibly we’ll have to work on inventing someone as smart and complicated as Wall-E to help clean up the mess after us.

As the story goes, Wall-E thinks he is the only life form (artificial and/or otherwise) on Earth until he discovers Eve. It turns out that humans haven’t abandoned Earth at all, instead they constantly send robots to keep Earth’s climate in check — and Eve is one of them. Upon a routine patrol of Earth, Eve makes the startling discovery and returns to the humans orbiting in space stations with the shocking revelation. It is then that Wall-E’s journey of comedy, heartache and adventure begins.

But it’s not as simple as that. Stanton explains his vision of the film, “What really interested me was the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment (we have) is to love, but that’s not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that could demonstrate what I was trying to say — that irrational love defeats the world’s programming. You’ve got these two robots that are trying to go above their basest directives, literally their programming, to experience love.”

The film in its entirety animated because that’s the only way it could work. Says executive producer John Lasseter, “The art of animation is about what the character does, not what it says. It all depends on how you tell the story, whether it has a lot of dialogue or not.” And that’s when Andrew Stanton and his team got to work. If you look closely, the director takes a lot of cues from various sources, Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, to George Lucas’s Star Wars to Kubrick’s magnum opus, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Stanton developed the film with the help of special effects guru Dennis Muren, and worked with him on how to replicate the sci-fi look of the ’60s and the ’70s. Muren, of course, is an alumnus of that particular sci-fi era, having developed Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Everything in the Wall-E has that era’s particular look and feel such as the colours and textures. These things aren’t from the future, they’re from the films about the future — and that’s what makes it so fun to look at, because subliminally we’ve seen them before. Even Wall-E looks like a cross between Johnny Five (from Short Circuit) and ET. But no matter what he looks like or how the other robots looked like, what’s important is how they act.

Stantons instructions to his designers were: “See it as an appliance first, and then read character into it.” Of course the writer would develop the story and characteristics, but these robots don’t speak. For a major portion of the film the robots speak in ‘voices’ created specially by sound designer Ben Burtt. Darth Vader, the Light Saber, Body Snatchers, ET and now Wall-E all owe their sounds to him.

The sound designer created dialogue by taking various mechanical sounds and jumbling them up so that they’d enounce the characters. And every robot presented in the film has a distinct voice of its own. But does that help the story? Can a film be done without dialogue and only through gestures? Well, people like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton didn’t have a hard time, and so Wall-E takes cues from them.

For Stanton and his team it was imperative that they be able to animate the gestures required for the story to progress. But because Wall-E is mostly robots gesticulating and having a cute and funny moment in between, the story itself can be a bit too strong or even dark for younger children. Though Finding Nemo was probably the most ‘adult’ movie out of Pixar’s lot with The Incredibles not that far behind, Wall-E definitely takes it further. As stated before, there are very few films that actually move people and this film has definitely lined itself with them.