WALL*E — **** — Animated feature, starring the voices of Ben Burtt, Jeff Garlin and others; rated G (animated violence)
Technological advances make "WALL*E" the best-looking of all the Pixar animated features to date.
There are a few sequences in the digitally animated cartoon that look astonishingly real. And some bits of live-action footage have been spliced in, and it doesn't look ridiculous when juxtaposed with the animation.
Fortunately, "WALL*E" is not only a triumph in terms of style, it's also a triumph in terms of story. There's a real emotional resonance and depth to this material, which is something of a surprise (especially when you consider the main character is a supposed, "artificial" life-form).
In fact, in both art and story this is an improvement over the two previous Pixar movies, the amusing but slightly chilly "Ratatouille" and the more disappointing "Cars," which never really took off.
This science-fiction/comedy also boasts one of the more appealing cartoon "leads." He's a trash-compacting robot still operating on an Earth that's been decimated by ecological neglect — a planet that also appears to have been deserted by mankind.
WALL*E seems to be content with having a cockroach for a pet and consoling himself with snippets from film classics (he's continually watching a musical number from the 1969 movie version of "Hello, Dolly!").
He's desperately lonely, though. That becomes apparent when EVE arrives on the planet. "She" is a much more advanced robotic scout that's been sent to Earth to look for any signs of life.
For WALL*E, it's love at first sight. EVE seems preoccupied with her mission and oblivious to his clumsy attempts to "woo" her — that is, until he finds some fragile plant life.
Co-screenwriter/director Andrew Stanton already proved how well he can "humanize" nonhuman characters in his hits "Finding Nemo" (2003) and "A Bug's Life" (1998).
And the ecological and environmental messages in his story are not nearly as strident and overpowering as they could have been. Stanton never tries to make his point at the expense of the characters or the story.
His newest tale is poignant and romantic at times and is completely charming throughout. It also has some laugh-out-loud gags and jokes.
Additional credit needs to go to sound effects artist Ben Burtt, who created "voices" for all of the robotic characters.
Also showing with the film is the seven-minute short "Presto," which features a stage magician who has a hungry, mischievous rabbit sidekick. Like the featured attraction, it's a delight.
"WALL*E" is rated G, though it contains some animated violence (vehicular and explosive mayhem) and selected moments of peril. Running time: 97 minutes.