When you can sit enraptured through the first half hour of a film without any dialogue, you know you're watching something a bit special. And WALL-E is certainly that. The quality of the animation is simply superb, containing some of the best computer-generated imagery yet seen in a movie (perhaps the Beijing Olympics organising committee ought to have enlisted Pixar's services).
In the 22nd century, one single corporate entity, Buy n Large, completely dominates the globe. But it is a company that presides over a world drowning in trash. As a quick fix BnL hatches a plan to evacuate humans to the Axiom, BnL's flagship luxury resort/starship. It pledges its robots left behind on Earth to clean up the mess within five years, allowing enough time for the biosphere recovers from the toxic shock.
Go forward 700 years and all that is left is WALL-E, a robot whose activity consists of compressing trash and stacking it in towers that loom over abandoned office blocks. This is a desolate world of flickering BnL adverts, dust storms, and decaying cities. Life consists of WALL-E's cockroach friend and a single plant he finds when he's out trash compacting. Centuries of isolation has allowed WALL-E to break his programming and become sentient. He occasionally finds interesting trinkets among the mountains of rubbish, which he takes back to his home. Among his most treasured possessions is a tape of Hello, Dolly!, which teaches him emotion, body language and social skills.
The one day when he is out foraging a spaceship lands, disgorging a new robot, EVE. Both are initially wary of the other but very soon they develop a close bond. But EVE is a probe sent from the Axiom to determine if the biosphere has recovered. When she scans a plant discovered earlier by WALL-E she stores it and deactivates until her mother ship returns. WALL-E is all alone again. He tries various means of reactivating her but to no avail, and slowly, sadly, he returns to his old routines. Then one day while compacting trash he realises her ship is back. He makes a mad dash back and reaches it just in time to see the ship's robotic arms retrieve EVE. He jumps on to the ship and hangs on for dear life as it blasts off. And so the adventure proper begins.
There's very little point recapping the entire plot - those who want to know the ins and outs can read an overview here.
WALL-E is a lovely film for all ages. But unsurprisingly, as a Disney production it spins a conservative tale. The message WALL-E ends up pushing, despite the intentions of its creators, is more than a gentle green warning. I would argue the film is a meditation on the human condition in industrial (not capitalist) society. In WALL-E's future the total corporate dominance of BnL has resulted in the smoothing out of all contradictions Marxists associates with capitalism. Society has evolved into an advanced communist system. Its human members have entered a permanent state of recline. They spend their days floating about on loungers. They communicate with others via holographic interfaces that hover just in front of their faces. And they are all obese. 700 years of BnL's benevolent direction has rendered them incapable of walking and pretty much doing anything for themselves. Robots have completely taken over the running of society, eliminating the need for human labour. Even the most high-ranking human, the Axiom's captain, is little more than a glorified tannoy announcer.
Basically, the human race has gone soft. Their complete dependence on machines for virtutally everything has infantilised them. Life on a lilo is inauthentic. It is only WALL-E and EVE's struggles against the Axiom's autopilot's attempt to suppress evidence of the plant that sets the human race back on to the path of authenticity. When they return to Earth their first steps on the home world are literally their first steps as functioning human beings. They plant WALL-E's sapling and set about reclaiming the Earth from its polluted state. The credits continue the story through a set of "drawings". We see humans and robots working together to plant seeds, rear crops and animals, drill wells and reconstructing buildings. Gradually the humans in these scenes start losing weight. And the Axiom itself, the symbol of BnL's hypermodernity, comes to be overtaken by vines and creepers as it is left to go derelict, symbolising the turning of humanity's back on its high tech past. People have found themselves again, through the simplicity of going back to the land.
This doesn't prevent WALL-E from being an enjoyable film. But a critical eye is required to see past the soft environmentalism.