How could a character who emotes so much with virtually no dialogue NOT make the top ten—especially when that character is a hopelessly romantic, whimsically eclectic robot whose only friend left on the abandoned futuristic wasteland of Earth is a cockroach that he loves like a labrador? WALL•E is not just another Johnny Five, (although he undeniably looks like J5’s very close cousin) he is an endlessly fascinating character from SCENE ONE of Andrew Stanton’s masterful film.
NUMBER 4: WALL•E
(WALL•E, Pixar Animation Studios, 2008)
Per the norm for Pixar films, WALL•E underwent serious story changes throughout its long gestation. The title character, however, seems to have been pretty solid in the mind of Stanton, who—along with Pete Docter, Joe Ranft and John Lasseter—came up with the idea of the little-robot-who-could way back at that now-famous brainstorming lunch in 1994. Whether he would be fighting aliens or saving gelatinous humans from a demented autopilot, WALL•E would always be himself. What I love so much about him is that he doesn’t do what he does—surviving hundreds of years beyond the other Waste Allocation Load Lifter robots—to send a message about evolved robotic kind. He just does it because that’s what he’s supposed to do.
Despair would take the heart of most of us in his situation, but it doesn’t take WALL•E . He is perhaps so likable because he doesn’t do the “natural” human thing of beating his breast and yelling, “WHY?” to the heavens. WALL•E is pure stoicism in the ancient Greek style—he is 100% in tune with his reality and he deals with it as required every day. From harvesting the parts of deceased WALL•E units to barricading himself in his bunker during wind-storms, WALL•E is pure resiliency—until EVE shows up.
We know that WALL•E is a romantic from his fascination with his Hello Dolly! video, but his instant infatuation with the beautiful vegetation excavator is still a surprising development in the story. Sure, our plucky protagonist has been alone for so long, it’s possible that an old beat-up swamp cooler would have looked good to him, but you believe as you watch that EVE and WALL•E were made for each other, or at least you believe that WALL•E thinks so. Oh, and he was also meant to save the human race from extinction, which he does as a sub-plot.
There’s nothing artificial about this robot, nothing heavy-handed about the plot, nothing whacked out about robot rights. Sure, one gets the environmental message, but it’s not off-putting, even for a very conservative viewer. The film is beautiful and WALL•E as a character is as brave as he is innocent, as creative as he is pragmatic, as naïve as he is ingenious. His voice (Ben Burtt) is childlike and instantly endearing (“EEE-VUH”). His exclamations are hilarious (WHOA!) and his eyes are so emotive, that he became another instantly classic character in Pixar’s plethora of inanimate objects come to life from the first movie poster.
If you haven’t sat down and enjoyed this film in a while, do yourself a favor and join a small robot who doesn’t know how to give up—definitely a lesson we all need, especially in this fear-mongering, death, grief, sorrow and murder age.
“Put on your Sunday clothes, there’s lots of world out there!”