I've never been a big fan of cartoons or the fancier-sounding "animation." I suspect watching 1950s Saturday morning cartoons destroyed my aesthetic tastebuds for the genre.
Let's face it-Tom and Jerry, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones, et al were awful. To be sure, today's animation is much better, but there's always that fundamental disconnect. The cartoon protagonist, no matter how appealing or how heroic, is just a moving construct. Its joy is not my joy. Its pain is not my pain.
That was why WALL-E was such a revelation to me. I couldn't help caring for the little robot. You see WALL-E and his sidekick, a little cockroach, are all that survive in a barren dessicated city landscape. Life on earth has ended. WALL-E has spent many years picking up and piling up a destroyed civilization's junk. WALL-E (an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class) has somehow become able to value certain things he collects over others. Each evening, he retires to his shelter and reviews his collection of Zippo lighters, nuts and bolts, and a Rubik's Cube. He ends each day watching an old VHS tape of Hello Dolly.
WALL-E's world is rocked when a sleek female-lookin' probe, Eve, shows up on the abandoned planet Earth and finds the first tendril of life. WALL-E and his new friend eventually find their way to a vast space station where the humans who had abandoned Earth have grown so fat as to be barely mobile. Tended by industrious robots, watching TV constantly and drinking giant slurpees, the humans have become almost like robots-and fat sluggish robots at that. Life on the space station is a very funny satire on at least one vision of our future. I, for one, am going to get more exercise.
Once on the space station, the film loses some of its innocence and wonder. It follows a predictable path back to Earth. But the predictable, even pedestrian, ending should not detract from a very entertaining-even moving-experience.
There is a scene when WALL-E and Eve are first getting to know each other. WALL-E has watched a scene from his Hello Dolly VHS tape where the boy shyly reaches over to touch the girl's hand as they walk along. WALL-E wants to express that same feeling of affection for Eve as they roll along. He tentatively reaches for her hand, and she initially draws away from him. WALL-E tries again and the scene ends with the two holding whatever robots have for hands. It is a moment of great sweetness.
Machines imitating what makes humans human. For at least that moment, I cared about WALL-E and Eve, and I wanted them to be happy. A great cinematic accomplishment.