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By Bob Garver

            Pixar Animation has been responsible for some of the best movies of the last fifteen years.  Not just the best animated movies or kids’ movies, but movies, period.  “Finding Nemo,” both “Toy Story” movies, and “Ratatouille” (my pick for the single greatest film of last year) are contemporary classics.  Even the studio’s lesser films are quite good.  There isn’t a huge demand anymore for movies like “A Bug’s Life” and “Cars,” but if you have an afternoon to kill, they are a fine way to pass the time. 

           Pixar’s newest film is “WALL-E,” and sadly, it is one of those lesser films that are nevertheless better than 90% of what other studios churn out.   “WALL-E” is the story of the robotic trash compactor of the title.  He lives on a deserted Earth 700 years in the future.  He spends his days crushing leftover garbage.  At night, he enjoys his collection of artifacts.  To you and me, these are ordinary things that humans left behind.  

         Where did the humans go?  They all left on a spaceship called The Axiom.  We know this because the opening moments of the film include plenty of old commercials and news footage about The Axiom.  The idea of using old TV footage is interesting at first, but it soon becomes clear that the filmmakers couldn’t find a better way to establish the setting. 

             The plot meanders of WALL-E’s daily life for a while, but picks up when a new robot enters the picture.  The new robot’s name is EVE and she has a much sleeker design than the rust bucket WALL-E.  EVE likes to shoot everything in sight, which makes social interaction rather difficult.  But she and WALL-E still become fast friends.  One day, WALL-E presents her with a plant, which is apparently something very rare in this wasteland of the future. 

           EVE snatches the plant and immediately makes plans to return to her home on The Axiom.  Apparently, bringing a plant to The Axiom is her one and only “directive.”  Other robots in “WALL-E” have “directives,” but they are inconsistent about sticking to them, often pausing to do something decidedly spontaneous. 

          WALL-E stows away back to The Axiom.  Once we are on the ship, we get a lot of questions answered.  The ship was supposed to return to Earth after five years, but had to stay in space because pollution made the Earth uninhabitable.  The human race has grown sedate from going everywhere in flying chairs, fat from laziness and drinking greasy foods out of cups, and animated for no apparent reason. 

         It is also on the ship where we meet the film’s most interesting character.  Captain (Jeff Garlin) has spent most of his life letting the ship’s autopilot do all the work.  When EVE returns with the plant, he gets excited about returning to Earth since the plant proves that it can now sustain life.  When this dream is nearly dashed, he surprises even himself by proving gallant in the face of adversity.  He’s so nice, you hate to have to tell him he won’t be able to grow pizza from trees. 

          The hopes of returning to Earth are nearly dashed because of the autopilot.  The autopilot received orders years ago from President Forthright (a live-action Fred Willard) not to return to Earth because of all the pollution.  What Forthright meant was that the ship shouldn’t return to Earth, but the autopilot does not make this distinction. 

            The rest of “WALL-E” is an adventure to preserve the plant and return to Earth.  WALL-E, EVE, Captain, and some broken robots all contribute.  There is a lesson about teamwork.  There is a sweet little romance between WALL-E and EVE.  There is also a neat sequence at the end where the humans get Earth working again, set to a Peter Gabriel song sure to get a Best Original Song nomination at the Academy Awards.  Everything about “WALL-E” is nice and agreeable.  It might not be the next “Ratatouille,” but it makes for a good afternoon for the family.

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