With the delight­ful WALL-E, Pixar con­tin­ues its as-yet unbro­ken win­ning streak of instant-classic films for all ages. From among their oeu­vre, my per­sonal tastes run toward the darker and more psy­cho­log­i­cally com­plex The Incred­i­bles and Rata­touille by direc­tor Brad Bird. Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E cer­tainly ranks among Pixar’s great­est hits, all films that will res­onate decades hence with chil­dren of all ages (as the say­ing goes). Other stu­dios con­tinue to pro­duce dis­pos­able pas­tiches such as Shrek and Ice Age, laden down with pop cul­tural ref­er­ences that will not age well and even­tu­ally be for­got­ten. While eye-popping now, per­haps some day Pixar’s ani­ma­tion will appear less than state-of-the art, and I do fear that one day Pixar may mis­cal­cu­late and pro­duce a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial fail­ure. If they ever do, it will be because they lost their empha­sis on sto­ry­telling craft and sense for time­less relevance.

WALL-E looks back­wards in cin­ema his­tory for inspi­ra­tion to envi­sion its grim dis­tant future. WALL-E’s daily tra­vails on an eco­log­i­cally col­lapsed Earth resem­ble the des­o­late waste­lands seen in such joy­less apoc­a­lyp­tic down­ers as The Ter­mi­na­tor and The Matrix. WALL-E is the lone sur­vivor of his kind, dis­pas­sion­ately sal­vaging spare parts from his dead com­rades. All this is poten­tially very scary stuff for kids, but the lit­tle guy has become charm­ingly eccen­tric over the course of his several-hundred year long mis­sion, and his pos­i­tive, can-do energy pro­vides an amus­ing coun­ter­point to the dead world about him. Still, the themes of lone­li­ness and envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis are there for adults to plainly see and even the youngest view­ers to pick up on.

WALL-EWALL-E befriends the DustBuster3000

Long before WALL-E, the camp sci-fi clas­sic Logan’s Run sup­posed a future devolved human­ity, reduced to a self-sustaining infan­tile state. Human­ity impris­oned itself for the sake of sur­vival, but the ratio­nal was long since for­got­ten and the closed sys­tem no longer unnec­es­sary. It takes the rebel­lion of one free spirit to wake up the whole of soci­ety to the real­ity out­side the walls of their enclosed womb (or tomb).

WALL-E draws its eco­log­i­cal metaphors and even the visual design of WALL-E him­self from the clas­sic hip­pie science-fiction film Silent Run­ning. The last rem­nants of an over­pop­u­lated Earth’s bios­phere are pre­served in orbit­ing green­houses, until venal cor­po­ra­tions decide they are no longer nec­es­sary and are to be demol­ished. But one dri­ven botanist and his team of cute gar­den­ing droids con­spire to pre­serve a gar­den of eden for­ever, adrift in space, but a great cost: their rebel­lion is a bloody, mur­der­ous one.

The last major cin­e­matic touch­stone for WALL-E is, of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The visual design of the Buy ‘n’ Large ark car­ry­ing the rem­nants of human­ity is all about the clean, white lines of Kubrick’s space sta­tion, and none of the filthy grunge that has dom­i­nated sci­ence fic­tion ever since Rid­ley Scott’s Nos­tromo in Alien (but Sigour­ney Weaver does pro­vide the voice of the ship’s com­puter, per­haps finally find­ing vengeance against Alien’s evil com­puter M.O.T.H.E.R.). WALL-E’s chief vil­lain is the droid AUTO, with the sin­gle, sin­is­terly unblink­ing red eye of HAL 9000. Both are arti­fi­cial intel­li­gences that stunt the evo­lu­tion­ary advanc­ing of the human race in a twisted lit­eral read­ing of their pro­gram­ming to pro­tect it. Dele­te­ri­ous over­pro­tec­tion is also a theme in Andrew Stanton’s Find­ing Nemo; the Mar­lon learns that his pro­hib­i­tive cod­dling of his son pre­vents him from blossoming.

WALL-EPistol-packin’ Princess Leia-bot comin’ through!

But more than any­thing, WALL-E is a love story. If you think about it too much, you real­ize WALL-E is sev­eral hun­dred years old, and is thus rock­ing the cra­dle when he falls for the later model droid EVE. A pistol-packin’, short-tempered spit­fire in the fine tra­di­tion of Princess Leia, EVE is so far advanced that she’s prac­ti­cally a dif­fer­ent species of robot. Still, when WALL-E upends an entire soci­ety in sta­sis, he also awak­ens EVE to the joys of life.

Pixar has long had busi­ness ties to Apple, but this is the first film of theirs to make overt in-jokes. WALL-E has some­how rigged a vin­tage VHS cas­sette of Hello, Dolly! to play on an only slightly less vin­tage iPod. Apple’s res­i­dent indus­trial design genius Jonathan Ive report­edly con­sulted on the design of EVE. WALL-E’s startup sound is the clas­sic Mac­in­tosh boot-up fan­fare. The “evil” robot AUTO speaks with the voice of Mac­InTalk, the text-to-speech tech­nol­ogy invented by Apple in the early 90s. Any one of these gags would have been cute, but taken as a whole, one sus­pects the Berlin wall between com­pa­nies is break­ing down, result­ing in crass prod­uct placement.

Offi­cial movie site: www.wall-e.com

Buy the DVD [http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001EOQWEO/?tag=dorkreport-20] from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.