Not since the days of Charlie Chaplin's early directorial efforts have we ever had a 'near'-silent film as effective as this. Like Chaplin's last silent film, Modern Times, we occasionally hear dialogue and even singing, but the main characters mainly stay as silent as mimes. It is their actions that obviously speak louder than any singular word. Director Andrew Stanton of Finding Nemo and A Bug's Life really outdoes himself this time with what can only be a called a true marvel in the world of wondrous animation, science-fiction, and romantic comedy. Yes, you read that right, a romantic comedy.
Looking at literature and films before WALL-E, it's hard to believe that no one else had come up with the idea of a very emotionally vulnerable robot falling in love with another robot. Sure, we've had sci-fi writers from the likes of Issac Asimov to Arthur C. Clarke (the villainous robot of this film is obviously inspired by Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of Clarke's HAL-9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, not to mention one piece of music used in this film during a fight with said villain) examining the "soul" of the robot. We've had comedic interpretations of robots as demonstrated in Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and we've even had a robot dabbling with the concept of love and compassion in the Short Circuit films. So it baffles me that such an original concept, which also should have been fairly obvious (is it because we never believe machines can understand love, is that it?), had never been explored before. WALL-E's adorable personality is largely assisted by sound designer, Ben Burtt, of the Star Wars series. It is actually his voice we hear speaking for the little "kid," though altered significantly through various sound filters, but it is Burtt's experience through his toddler-like work on R2-D2 that solidifies WALL-E's sense of wonder and curiosity. The premise of a robot being curious about the world outside of his own realm, much like a child's, has been done various times, but having a guide in the form of a "female robot" (voiced by an exquisite Elissa Knight) who was just a member of the crew... wow.) showing the "male robot" the ropes? This is again, a pretty fresh idea. Notice how I just had to put my insinuation of engendering in quotes because of the dilemma in determining whether they really are male and female robots. A scientific mind would probably be thinking about that. However, the brilliant flexibility of the Children's genre allows us to not question it, simply because a child wouldn't. The irony is that most children I have met find the romance to be "icky" whereas the adults find it absolutely charming.
Undoubtedly, the film's storytelling abilities bring about interesting issues for any age group to examine. For kids, it is the exploration of any frontier, the joys of collecting (I think any kid understands this), and that intriguing opposite sex that may continue to baffle and fascinate for years to come. For the adult, it is all these things, and the horror of a decaying Earth, the corporate assimilation of all government, and an unsympathetic prediction of the human race's own uselessness. But like a lot of effective children's stories (is it really just for children after making that point?), a great lesson and a tremendous sense of hope is awarded to us by the end of the story. Keep in mind, however, that a great story is not all about the issues (which an earlier competing CG animated film, Happy Feet, failed to realize), but about the characters' journeys through the issues. It's interesting to think that if robots can unquestionably fight for what is right and learn to love one another--that actually might be great news for the human race.