Disney/Pixar's newest creation, Wall-E (which made me happier than any other film I've seen this year), is many things at once but first and foremost, it joins Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Notebook and Brokeback Mountain as one of the few instantly classic cinematic love stories of the new millenium.
The courtship that takes place between Wall-E (a droid left to clean up Earth after humans are forced to leave in the 2100's due to fatal toxicity levels - ahem, ahem) and Eve (a sleek, egg-like beauty who shows up 700 years later to seek out organic life) is as old-fashioned as they come. Apart from a couple of still-running, looped video ads that fill you in on bits of mankind's backstory, nary a word is spoken through at least the entire first third of this film. Before Eve arrives, we get a good taste of Wall-E's personality (thanks to the wizards at Pixar having mastered the art of making the most non-human of creatures as expressive as Steve Carrell) as we watch him decorate a city with centuries of cubed-up trash, buzz around with his lone cockroach friend, and fill his loading dock of a home with found treasures (where to put the spork?!) When she gets there (assuming she's a she and he's a he), he woos her with charms pulled right out of an old silent picture. Like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, Wall-E is a bumbling idiot in front of his love; and it's not what he says but what he does that wins her - and the audience - over. He adorably shows his affections by making love notes out of junk, and caring for her even when she puts her nonexistent nose in the air. She - an we - soon find him irresistable. Who'da thought that the movie to most beautifully take its time to present one of the most believable and natural on-screen relationships in years would be animated?
Wall-E (directed by Andrew Stanton) doesn't feel animated at all. Earth looks like the wasteland it would if global warming took over and everyone up and left. Wall-E looks like a real, worn-out android, and everything he touches looks like real, worn-out garbage. In fact, once the gelatinous, bone-mass deprived humans living on Eve's mothership light years away are revealed, it's a shock: "what are these cartoons doing in this movie?" Pixar is now scarily close to being able to effectively re-create just about anything that isn't two-legged and carbon-based. A working Zippo lighter and a small plant are a working Zippo lighter and a small plant. String lights and sandstorms are string lights and sandstorms. The only thing left for this revolutionary art studio to conquer is people. Once they can render them with such flawless believability, will there still be a need for actors?
Because, from here, it looks like Wall-E the robot (played by Pixar's production team) - and his movie, for that matter - is the best performance of 2008. He's the most lovable character of his kind since Ellen Degeneres's Dory from Finding Nemo in 2003. Hell, I can do better than that: since E.T. DreamWorks is pushing Jack Black's line "Skadoosh" from Kung Fu Panda as the word of the summer. Forget that. Listen to this little guy say his name once or twice in buzzing, beeping, robotic tongue. It's the word (or name, if you're picky) of the year.