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June 28, 2008

Pixar robot romance ‘WALL-E’ has heart of gold

HOLLYWOOD — Within the rumbling, stumbling hunk of junk that is WALL-E beats the sweetest, warmest heart — a robotic representation of humanity’s highest potential.

And within the sci-fi adventure “WALL-E” lies an artistic truth: that Pixar’s track record remains impeccable.

Following high-concept movies about a superhero family, talking cars and a gourmet rat, this is the Disney computer animation arm’s boldest experiment yet. “WALL-E” is essentially a silent film in which the two main characters, a mismatched pair of robots, communicate through bleeps and blips and maybe three words between them.

And yet director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo”) is resourceful enough to find infinite ways for them to express themselves — amusingly, achingly, and with emotional precision. He’s also created, with the help of a team of animators, a visual marvel. Not that this is in any way surprising from a Pixar flick, but still, it’s worth noting.

The smudged, dented metal that makes up WALL-E’s frame looks so realistic, you could reach out and touch it; at the same time, his big eyes often appear so vulnerable and pleading, you can’t help but feel a connection with him. The characters are adorable without being too cutesy, accessible to adults and children alike.

Ben Burtt, a multiple Oscar winner who created R2-D2’s signature sound effects in the “Star Wars” movies, provides the “voice” of WALL-E, or Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class. Seven hundred years after Earth was abandoned, leaving the planet looking like a post-apocalyptic Tomorrowland, WALL-E is still doing the job he was programmed to do: pick up all the trash he sees around him and compress it into tidy packages.

But he’s a romantic at heart with an eye for nostalgia, sifting through garbage for items like bowling pins, a Rubik’s Cube, an iPod, a spork. The script, which Stanton co-wrote with Jim Reardon from a story he co-wrote with Pete Docter, evokes iconic cultural items and imagery without going for the cheap pun or empty celebrity gag. Genuflections to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Alien” seem fitting, as does WALL-E’s physical resemblance to E.T. (It’s one of the movies that earned Burtt an Academy Award for best sound effects editing.)

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