Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Andrew Stanton|
|Produced by||Jim Morris
Lindsey Collins (Co-producer)
John Lasseter (Executive)
|Written by||Andrew Stanton
|Music by||Thomas Newman|
|Editing by||Stephen Schaffer|
|Studio||Pixar Animation Studios|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Pictures|
|Release date(s)||June 27, 2008|
|Running time||98 minutes|
WALL-E, promoted with an interpunct as WALL•E, is a 2008 computer-animated science-fiction allegorical romance film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and directed by Andrew Stanton. The story follows a robot named WALL-E, who is designed to clean up a waste-covered Earth far in the future. He eventually falls in love with another robot named EVE, and follows her into outer space on an adventure that changes the destiny of both his kind and humanity.
After directing Finding Nemo, Stanton felt Pixar had created believable simulations of underwater physics and was willing to direct a film largely set in space. Most of the characters do not have actual human voices, but instead communicate with body language and robotic sounds, designed by Ben Burtt, that resemble voices. In addition, it is the first animated feature by Pixar to have segments featuring live-action characters.
Walt Disney Pictures released it in the United States and Canada on June 27, 2008. The film grossed US$23.1 million on its opening day, and $63 million during its opening weekend in 3,992 theaters, ranking #1 at the box office. This ranks as the fourth highest-grossing opening weekend for a Pixar film as of May 31, 2009. Following Pixar tradition, WALL-E was paired with a short film, Presto, for its theatrical release. WALL-E has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews among critics, scoring an approval rating of 96% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. It grossed $534 million worldwide, won the 2008 Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film, the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature as well as being nominated for five other Academy Awards at the 81st Academy Awards. WALL-E ranks first in TIME's "Best Movies of the Decade."
Throughout the 21st century, Earth was governed by the Buy n Large megacorporation (BnL), causing mass consumerism and covering the planet in trash by 2105. In an attempt to resolve the situation, BnL evacuated Earth's population on fully automated luxury starliners for five years while an army of trash compactor robots called "WALL-E" were left behind to clean up the planet. The plan largely failed, however, forcing humanity to remain in space indefinitely. Seven hundred years later, in 2805, only one WALL-E remains active, having survived by salvaging parts for himself from other defunct WALL-E units. This unit has developed sentience; as shown by his quirky habits of collecting knickknacks from the mountains of trash, domesticating a lone cockroach, singing to the show tunes of Hello Dolly! and doing so has taught him about emotions such as love, but also learns about how lonely he is.
One day, WALL-E finds a seedling plant growing among the trash and returns it to his home inside an old transport truck. Later, a spaceship lands and deploys an advanced probe robot named EVE. WALL-E is instantly smitten in love with EVE as she carries out her directive of searching for signs of plant life. EVE is initially aloof and hostile, but eventually warms up to WALL-E and takes a liking to him. During a dust storm, WALL-E takes EVE to his home and shows her the plant, which causes her automated systems to store the plant inside her body, activate a homing beacon for her ship, and shut down. WALL-E goes to great lengths to take care of her, even going on a date with the inactive robot, in the hopes that she will reactivate. When EVE's ship returns to collect her, WALL-E desperately clings to the hull of the ship as it returns to the Axiom, the flagship of the BnL starliner fleet.
Upon docking, WALL-E follows EVE as she is taken to the bridge of the ship. As he progresses through the Axiom, it becomes apparent that after centuries of living in microgravity and relying on the ship's automated systems, the human passengers have suffered severe bone loss and become obese. The captain himself does little, leaving control of the ship to its robotic autopilot, Auto. When EVE is brought to the bridge, the captain learns that by placing her plant sample inside the ship's holo-detector as a sign of Earth being habitable again, the Axiom will enter hyperspace and return to Earth to allow its passengers to repopulate the planet. However, when EVE is opened, the plant is missing. She is considered defective and is taken to the robot repair ward along with WALL-E, though the captain's curiosity about Earth is piqued, and he begins researching more about his home planet.
At the repair ward, WALL-E mistakes EVE's inspection for torture and breaks free attempting to free her, but his clumsiness only causes chaos and he accidentally releases a horde of malfunctioning robots to roam the ship, resulting in the ship's security designating him and EVE as "rogue robots." Angry with WALL-E's disruptive influence and believing he stole and lost the plant, EVE attempts to send him back to Earth in an escape pod. However, they witness Auto's assistant GO-4 deposit the missing plant into the pod programmed to self-destruct, launching it with WALL-E inside, though WALL-E manages to escape with the plant unharmed. Overjoyed, EVE gratefully gives him a "kiss" in the form of an electric spark, and the two robots celebrate on a spacewalk around the Axiom before returning the plant to the captain.
The captain reviews EVE's visual records of the devastated Earth, and vows to return there to restore the planet. EVE also views her security records of WALL-E selflessly protecting her from the harsh environment of Earth after she shut down; she is so moved by WALL-E's love that she realizes she loves him back.
Before the Captain could activate the Holo-detector, Auto reveals that he was given a final directive to keep humanity in space, as Earth had been deemed uninhabitable at the time he was given the directive. When the Captain forces his orders to return to Earth, Auto stages a mutiny by electrocuting WALL-E, sending him down a garbage chute with EVE and the plant, and locking the captain in his quarters.
With WALL-E dying, EVE realizes that the only parts available that can save him are on Earth, so WALL-E and EVE escape from the garbage depot to activate the ship's hyperjump back to Earth by placing the plant in the holo-detector with help from the malfunctioning robots. The captain breaks free from his quarters and opens the holo-detector while fighting Auto, who closes it on WALL-E and crushes him to death as he tries to hold it open before being deactivated by the captain.
EVE places the plant in the holo-detector, releasing WALL-E and sending the ship back to Earth, and brings WALL-E back to his home to repair him. EVE successfully reactivates him but unfortunately, WALL-E's memory and personality appear to have been erased as he reverts to his original trash-compacting duties. Heartbroken, EVE takes his hand and gives him a farewell "kiss" which causes another spark that unexpectingly restores him to his usual self, happily reuniting the two robots. WALL-E and EVE rejoin the humans and robots as they begin working together to restore Earth, taking care to plant the seedling that brought them back home.
During the credits a series of pictures show the first stages of restoring Earth. These are set out so that the first ones are in the style of ancient cave drawings to modern-day art. The series shows the City being rebuilt to a whole new world full of lush green and life. The final picture shows EVE and WALL-E standing next to a tree, that is then shown to have grown from the same plant that started the re-colonization on Earth.
Andrew Stanton conceived WALL-E during a lunch with fellow writers John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft in 1994. Toy Story was nearing completion and the writers brainstormed ideas for their next projects – A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo – at this lunch. Stanton asked, "What if mankind had to leave Earth and somebody forgot to turn off the last robot?" Having struggled for many years with making the characters in Toy Story appealing, Stanton found his simple Robinson Crusoe-esque idea of a lonely robot on a deserted planet very strong. Stanton made WALL-E a waste collector as the idea was instantly understandable, and because it was a low-status menial job that made him sympathetic. Stanton also liked the imagery of stacked cubes of garbage. He did not find the idea dark because having a planet covered in garbage was for him a childish imagining of disaster.
Stanton and Pete Docter developed the film under the title of Trash Planet for two months in 1995, but they did not know how to develop the story and Docter chose to direct Monsters, Inc. instead. Stanton came up with the idea of WALL-E finding a plant, because his life as the sole inhabitant on a deserted world reminded Stanton of a plant growing among pavements. Before they turned their attention to other projects, Stanton and Lasseter thought about having WALL-E fall in love, as it was the necessary progression away from loneliness. Stanton started writing WALL-E again in 2002 while completing Finding Nemo. Stanton formatted his script in a manner reminiscent of Dan O'Bannon's Alien. O'Bannon wrote his script in a manner Stanton found reminded him of haiku, where visual descriptions were done in continuous lines of a few words. Stanton wrote his robot dialogue conventionally, but placed them in brackets. In late 2003, Stanton and a few others created a story reel of the first twenty minutes of the film. Lasseter and Steve Jobs were impressed and officially began development, though Jobs stated he did not like the title, originally spelled "W.A.L.-E."
While the first act of WALL-E "fell out of the sky" for Stanton, he had originally wanted aliens to plant EVE to explore Earth and the rest of the film was very different. When WALL-E comes to the Axiom, he incites a Spartacus-style rebellion by the robots against the remnants of the human race, which were cruel alien Gels (completely devolved, gelantinous, boneless, legless, see-through, green creatures that resemble Jell-O). James Hicks, a physiologist, mentioned to Stanton the concept of atrophy and the effects prolonged weightlessness would have on humans living in space for an inordinately extended time period. Therefore, this was the inspiration of the humans degenerating into the alien Gels, and their ancestry would have been revealed in a Planet of the Apes-style ending. The Gels also spoke a made-up gibberish language, but Stanton scrapped this idea because he thought it would be too complicated for the audience to understand and they could easily be driven off from the storyline.  The Gels had a royal family, who host a dance in a castle on a lake in the back of the ship, and the Axiom curled up into a ball when returning to Earth in this incarnation of the story. Stanton decided this was too bizarre and unengaging, and conceived humanity as "big babies" (an idea Peter Gabriel compared to neoteny). Stanton developed the metaphorical theme of the humans learning to stand again and "grow[ing] up", wanting WALL-E and EVE's relationship to inspire humanity because he felt very few films explore how utopian societies come to exist. The process of depicting the descendants of humanity as the way they appear in the movie was very slow. Stanton first decided to put a nose and ears on the Gels so the audience could recognize them. Eventually, fingers, legs, clothes, and other characteristics were added until they arrived at the concept of being fetus-like to allow the audience to see themselves in the characters.
In a later version of the film, Auto comes to the docking bay to retrieve EVE's plant. The film would have its first cutaway to the captain, but Stanton moved that as he found it too early to begin moving away from WALL-E's point-of-view. As a homage to Get Smart, Auto takes the plant and goes into the bowels of the ship into a room resembling a brain where he watches videos of Buy n Large's scheme to clean-up the Earth falling apart through the years. Stanton removed this to keep some mystery as to why the plant is taken from EVE. The captain appears to be unintelligent, but Stanton wanted him to just be unchallenged; otherwise he would have been unempathetic. One example of how unintelligent the captain was depicted initially is that he was seen to wear his hat upside-down, only to fix it before he challenges Auto. In the finished film, he merely wears it casually atop his head, tightening it when he assumes real command of the Axiom.
Originally, EVE would have been electrocuted by Auto, and then be quickly saved from ejection at the hands of the WALL-A robots by WALL-E. He would have then revived her by replacing her power unit with a cigarette lighter he brought from Earth. Stanton reversed this following a 2007 test screening, as he wanted to show EVE replacing her directive of bringing the plant to the captain with repairing WALL-E, and it made WALL-E even more heroic if he held the holo-detector open despite being badly hurt. Stanton also moved the moment where WALL-E reveals his plant (which he had snatched from the self-destructing escape pod) from producing it from a closet to immediately after his escape, as it made EVE happier and gave them stronger motivation to dance around the ship. Stanton felt half the audience at the screening believed the humans would be unable to cope with living on Earth and died out after the film's end. Jim Capobianco, director of the short film Your Friend the Rat, created an end credits animation that continued the story – and stylized in different artistic movements throughout history – to clarify an optimistic tone.
WALL-E was the most complex Pixar production since Monsters, Inc. because of the world and the history that had to be conveyed. Whereas most Pixar films have up to 75,000 storyboards, WALL-E required 125,000. Production designer Ralph Eggleston wanted the lighting of the first act on Earth to be romantic, while the second act on the Axiom to be cold and sterile. During the third act, the romantic lighting is slowly introduced into the Axiom environment. Pixar studied Chernobyl and the city of Sofia to create the ruined world; art director Anthony Christov was from Bulgaria and recalled Sofia used to have problems storing its garbage. Eggleston bleached out the whites on Earth to make WALL-E feel vulnerable, as if he requires sunglasses to survive the harsh sunlight. The overexposed light makes the location look more vast. Because of the haziness, the cubes making up the towers of garbage had to be very large, otherwise they would have lost shape (in turn, this helped save rendering time). The dull tans of Earth subtly become soft pinks and blues when EVE arrives. When WALL-E shows EVE all his collected items inside the truck he lives in, all the lights he has collected light up to give an inviting atmosphere, like a Christmas tree. Eggleston tried to avoid the colors yellow and green so WALL-E – who was made yellow to emulate a tractor – would not blend into the deserted Earth, and to make the plant more prominent.
Stanton also wanted the lighting to look realistic and evoke the science fiction films of his youth. He felt Pixar had captured the physics of being underwater with Finding Nemo, so for WALL-E he wanted to push that for air. It was while rewatching some of his favorite science fiction films he realized Pixar's films lacked the look of 70 mm film and its barrel distortion, lens flare and racking focus. Producer Jim Morris invited Roger Deakins and Dennis Muren to advise on lighting and atmosphere. Muren spent several months with Pixar, while Deakins hosted one talk and was requested to stay on for another two weeks. Stanton said Muren's experience came from integrating computer animation into live-action settings, while Deakins helped them understand not to overly complicate their camerawork and lighting. 1970s Panavision cameras were used to help the animators understand and replicate handheld imperfections like unfocused backgrounds in digital environments. The first lighting test consisted of building a three-dimensional replica of WALL-E, filming it with a 70 mm camera, and then trying to replicate that in the computer. Stanton cited the shallow lens work of Gus Van Sant's films as an influence, as it created intimacy in each close-up. Stanton chose angles for the virtual cameras that a live-action filmmaker would choose if filming on a set.
Stanton wanted the Axiom's interior to resemble Shanghai and Dubai. Eggleston studied 1950s and '60s NASA paintings and the original concept art for Tomorrowland for the Axiom, to reflect that era's sense of optimism. Stanton remarked "We are all probably very similar in our backgrounds here [at Pixar] in that we all miss the Tomorrowland that was promised us from the heyday of Disneyland," and wanted a "jet pack" feel. Pixar also studied the Disney Cruise Line and visited Las Vegas, which was helpful in understanding artificial lighting. Eggleston also based his Axiom designs on the futuristic yet comforting architecture of Santiago Calatrava. Eggleston divided the inside of the ship into three sections; the rear's economy class has a basic gray concrete texture with graphics keeping to the red, blue and white of the BnL logo. The coach class with living/shopping spaces has 'S' shapes as people are always looking for "what's around the corner". Stanton intended to have many colorful signs, but he realized this would overwhelm the audience and went with Eggleston's original idea of a small number of larger signs. The front, premier class is a large Zen-like spa with colors limited to turquoise, cream and tan, and leads on to the captain's warm carpeted and wooded quarters and the sleek dark bridge. In keeping with the artificial Axiom, camera movements were modeled after those of the steadicam.
Having chosen to show live-action footage from Hello, Dolly!, Stanton continued the precedent of showing historical, normal humans in live action footage, while creating their bloated descendants in the rest of the film with animation. The use of live action was a stepping stone for Pixar, as Stanton was planning to make John Carter of Mars his next project. Storyboarder Derek Thompson noted introducing live action meant they had to make the rest of the film look even more realistic. Eggleston added that if the historical humans had been animated and slightly caricaturized, then the audience would not have recognized how serious their devolution was. Stanton cast Fred Willard as the historical Buy n Large CEO because "He's the most friendly and insincere car salesman I could think of." The CEO says "stay the course," which Stanton used because he thought it was funny. Industrial Light & Magic did the visual effects for these shots.
WALL-E went undeveloped during the 1990s partly because Stanton and Pixar were not confident enough yet to have a feature length film with a main character that behaved like Luxo Jr. or R2-D2. Stanton explained there are two types of robots in cinema: "human[s] with metal skin", like the Tin Man, or "machine[s] with function" like Luxo and R2. He found the latter idea "powerful" because it allowed the audience to project personalities onto the characters, as they do with babies and pets: "You're compelled ... you almost can't stop yourself from finishing the sentence 'Oh, I think it likes me! I think it's hungry! I think it wants to go for a walk!'" He added, "We wanted the audience to believe they were witnessing a machine that has come to life." The animators visited recycling stations to study machinery, and also met robot designers, visited NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to study robots, watched a recording of a Mars rover, and borrowed a bomb detecting robot from the San Francisco Police Department. Simplicity was preferred in their performances as giving them too many movements would make them feel human.
Stanton wanted WALL-E to be a box and EVE to be like an egg. WALL-E's eyes were inspired by a pair of binoculars Stanton was given when watching the Oakland Athletics play against the Boston Red Sox. He "missed the entire inning" because he was distracted by them. The director was reminded of Buster Keaton and decided the robot would not need a nose or mouth. Stanton added a zoom lens to make WALL-E more sympathetic. Ralph Eggleston noted this feature gave the animators more to work with and gave the robot a child-like quality. Pixar's studies of trash compactors during their visits to recycling stations inspired his body. His tank treads were inspired by a wheelchair someone had developed that used treads instead of wheels. The animators wanted him to have elbows, but realized this was unrealistic because he is only designed to pull garbage into his body. His arms also looked very flimsy when they did a test of him waving. Animation director Angus MacLane suggested they attach his arms to a track on the sides of his body to move them around, based on the inkjet printers his father designed. This arm design contributed to creating the character's posture, so if they wanted him to be nervous, they would lower them. Stanton was unaware of the similarities between WALL-E and Johnny 5 from Short Circuit until others pointed it out to him.
Stanton wanted EVE to be at the higher end of technology, and asked iPod designer Jonathan Ive to inspect her design. He was very impressed. Her eyes are modelled on Lite-Brite toys, but Pixar chose to not make them overly expressive as it would be too easy to have her eyes turn into hearts to express love or something similar. Her limited design meant the animators had to treat her like a drawing, relying on posing her body to express emotion. They also found her similar to a manatee or a narwhal because her floating body resembled an underwater creature. Auto was a conscious homage to HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the usage of Also sprach Zarathustra for the showdown between the captain and Auto furthers that. The manner in which he hangs from a wall gives him a threatening feel, like a spider. Originally, Auto was designed entirely differently, resembling EVE, but masculine and authoritative; the Steward robots were also more aggressive Patrol-bots. The majority of the robot cast were formed with the Build-a-bot program, where different heads, arms and treads were combined together in over a hundred variations. The humans were modelled on sea lions due to their blubbery bodies, as well as babies. The filmmakers noticed baby fat is a lot tighter than adult fat and copied that texture for the film's humans.
To animate their robots, Pixar watched a Keaton and a Chaplin film every day for almost a year, and occasionally a Harold Lloyd picture. Afterwards, the filmmakers knew all emotions could be conveyed silently. Stanton cited Keaton's "great stone face" as giving them perseverance in animating a character with an unchanging expression. As he rewatched these, Stanton felt that filmmakers – since the advent of sound – relied on dialogue too much to convey exposition. The filmmakers dubbed the cockroach WALL-E keeps as a pet "Hal", in reference to silent film producer Hal Roach (as well as being an additional reference to HAL 9000). They also watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf, films that had sound but were not reliant on dialogue. Stanton acknowledged Silent Running as an influence because its silent robots were a forerunner to the likes of R2-D2, and that the "hopeless romantic" Woody Allen also inspired WALL-E.
Producer Jim Morris recommended Ben Burtt as sound designer for WALL-E because Stanton kept using R2-D2 as the benchmark for the robots. Burtt had completed Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and told his wife he would no longer work on films with robots, but found WALL-E and its substitution of voices with sound "fresh and exciting". He recorded 2500 sounds for the film, which was twice the average amount for a Star Wars film, and a record in his career. Burtt began work in 2005, and experimented with filtering his voice for two years. Burtt described the robot voices as "like a toddler [...] universal language of intonation. 'Oh', 'Hm?', 'Huh!', you know?"
During production Burtt had the opportunity to look at the items used by Jimmy MacDonald, Disney's in-house sound designer for many of their classic films. Burtt used many of MacDonald's items on WALL-E. Because Burtt was not simply adding sound effects in post-production, the animators were always evaluating his new creations and ideas, which Burtt found an unusual experience. He worked in sync with the animators, returning their animation after adding the sounds to give them more ideas. Burtt would choose scientifically-accurate sounds for each character, but if he could not find one that worked, he would choose a dramatic if unrealistic noise. Burtt would find hundreds of sounds by looking at concept art of characters, before he and Stanton pared it down to a distinct few for each robot.
Burtt saw a hand-cranked electrical generator while watching Island in the Sky, and bought an identical, unpacked device from 1950 on eBay to use for WALL-E moving around. Burtt also used an automobile self starter for when WALL-E goes fast, and the sound of cars being wrecked at a demolition derby provided for WALL-E's compressing trash in his body. The Macintosh computer chime was used to signify when WALL-E has fully recharged his battery. For EVE, Burtt wanted her humming to have a musical quality. Burtt was only able to provide neutral or masculine voices, so Pixar employee Elissa Knight was asked to provide her voice for Burtt to electronically modify. Stanton deemed the sound effect good enough to properly cast her in the role. Burtt recorded a flying ten-feet long radio-controlled jet plane for EVE's flying, and for her plasma cannon, Burtt hit a slinky hung from a ladder with a timpani stick. He described it as a "cousin" to the blaster noise from Star Wars.
MacInTalk was used because Stanton "wanted Auto to be the epitome of a robot, cold, zeros & ones, calculating, and soulless [and] Stephen Hawking's kind of voice I thought was perfect." Additional sounds for the character were meant to give him a clockwork feel, to show he is always thinking and calculating. Sigourney Weaver was cast as the Axiom's computer voice as a nod to the Alien films.
Burtt had visited Niagara Falls in 1987 and used his recordings from his trip for the sounds of wind. He ran around a hall with a canvas bag up to record the sandstorm though. For the scene where WALL-E runs from falling shopping carts, Burtt and his daughter went to a supermarket and placed a recorder in their cart. They crashed it around the parking lot and then let it tumble down a hill. To create Hal (WALL-E's pet cockroach)'s skittering, he recorded the clicking caused by taking apart and reassembling handcuffs.
Thomas Newman recollaborated with Stanton on WALL-E since the two got along well on Nemo, which gave Newman the Annie Award for Best Music in an Animated Feature. He began writing the score in 2005, in the hope that starting this task early would make him more involved with the finished film. But, Newman remarked that animation is so dependent on scheduling he should have begun work earlier on when Stanton and Reardon were writing the script. EVE's theme was arranged for the first time in October 2007. Her theme when played as she first flies around Earth originally used more orchestral elements, and Newman was encouraged to make it sound more feminine. Newman said Stanton had thought up of many ideas for how he wanted the music to sound, and he generally followed them as he found scoring a partially silent film difficult. Stanton wanted the whole score to be orchestral, but Newman felt limited by this idea especially in scenes aboard the Axiom, and used electronics too.
Stanton originally wanted to juxtapose the opening shots of space with 1930s French swing music, but he saw The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and did not want to appear as if he were copying it. Stanton then thought about the song "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello, Dolly!, since he had portrayed the sidekick Barnaby Tucker in a 1980 high school production. Stanton found that the song was about two naive young men looking for love, which was similar to WALL-E's own hope for companionship. Jim Reardon suggested WALL-E find the film on video, and Stanton included "It Only Takes a Moment" and the clip of the actors holding hands, because he wanted a visual way to show how WALL-E understands love and conveys it to EVE. Hello Dolly! composer Jerry Herman allowed the songs to be used without knowing what for; when he saw the film, he found its incorporation into the story "genius". Coincidentally, Newman's uncle Lionel worked on Hello, Dolly!
Newman travelled to London to compose the end credits song "Down to Earth" with Peter Gabriel, who was one of Stanton's favorite musicians. Afterwards, Newman rescored some of the film to include the song's composition, so it would not sound intrusive when played. Louis Armstrong's rendition of "La Vie en rose" was used for a montage where WALL-E does not get EVE's attention on Earth. The script also specified using Bing Crosby's "Stardust" for when the two robots dance around the Axiom, but Newman asked if he could score the scene himself. A similar switch occurred for the sequence in which WALL-E attempts to wake EVE up through various means; originally, the montage would play with the instrumental version of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", but Newman wanted to challenge himself and scored an original piece for the sequence.
Stanton felt the moral of the film was "Irrational love defeats life's programming." He continued "That's a perfect metaphor for real life. We all fall into our habits, our routines and our ruts, consciously or unconsciously to avoid living. To avoid having to do the messy part. To avoid having relationships with other people, of dealing with the person next to us. That's why we can all get on our cell phones and not have to deal with one another." Stanton noted many commentators placed emphasis on the environmental aspect of humanity's complacency in the film, because "that disconnection is going to be the cause, indirectly, of anything that happens in life that's bad for humanity of the planet".
Stanton said that by taking away effort to work, the robots also take away humanity's need to put effort into relationships. Christian journalist Rod Dreher saw technology as the complicated villain of the film. The humans' artificial lifestyle on the Axiom has separated them from nature, making them "slaves of both technology and their own base appetites, and have lost what makes them human". Dreher contrasted the hardworking, dirt covered WALL-E with the sleek clean robots on the ship. However, it is the humans and not the robots who make themselves redundant, and during the end credits humans and robots are shown working alongside to renew the Earth. "WALL-E is not a Luddite film," he said. "It doesn't demonize technology. It only argues that technology is properly used to help humans cultivate their true nature – that it must be subordinate to human flourishing, and help move that along."
Stanton, who is Christian, named EVE after the Biblical character because WALL-E's loneliness reminded him of Adam, before God created his wife. Dreher noted EVE's biblical namesake and saw her directive as an inversion of that story; EVE uses the plant to tell humanity to return to Earth and move away from the "false god" of BnL and the lazy lifestyle it offers. Dreher also noted this departure from classical Christian viewpoints, where Adam is cursed to labor, in that WALL-E argues hard work is what makes humans human. Dreher emphasized the false god parallels to BnL in a scene where a robot teaches infants "B is for Buy n Large, your very best friend", which he compared to modern corporations such as McDonald's creating brand loyalty in children. Megan Basham of World magazine felt the film criticizes the pursuit of leisure, whereas WALL-E in his stewardship learns to truly appreciate God's creation.
During writing, a Pixar employee noted to Jim Reardon that EVE was reminiscent of the dove with the olive branch from the story of Noah's Ark, and the story was reworked with EVE finding a plant to return humanity from its voyage. WALL-E himself has been compared to Prometheus, Sisyphus, and Butades: in an essay discussing WALL-E as representative of the artistic strive of Pixar itself, Hrag Vartanian compared WALL-E to Butades in a scene where the robot expresses his love for EVE by making a sculpture of her from spare parts. "The Ancient Greek tradition associates the birth of art with a Corinthian maiden who longing to preserve her lover’s shadow traces it on the wall before he departed for war. The myth reminds us that art was born out of longing and often means more for the creator than the muse. In the same way Stanton and his Pixar team have told us a deeply personal story about their love of cinema and their vision for animation through the prism of all types of relationships."
Continuing a Pixar tradition, WALL-E was paired with a short film for its theatrical release: the attached film was Presto. The film was dedicated to Justin Wright (1981–2008), a Pixar animator who had worked on Ratatouille and unfortunately died of a heart attack before WALL-E's release.
The film premiered at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on June 23, 2008, and opened in 3,992 theaters in the United States and Canada on June 27. It grossed $63 million in its first weekend, ranking number one at the box office. It was the third-best opening weekend for a Pixar film. The movie crossed the $200 million mark in its sixth week with a total gross of more than $204 million on the first weekend in August 2008. In total, the film grossed $223,808,164 domestically with a worldwide overall of $521,268,237, making it the ninth highest grossing film of 2008.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on November 18, 2008. The various editions included Presto, a new short film BURN-E, the Leslie Iwerks documentary film The Pixar Story, shorts about the history of Buy n Large, the behind-the-scenes special features and a Digital Copy of the film that can be played through iTunes or Windows Media and compatible devices.
Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) built animatronic WALL-Es to promote the picture, which made appearances at Disneyland Resort; the Franklin Institute; the Miami Science Museum; the Seattle Center; and the Tokyo International Film Festival. Due to safety concerns, the 700 lb robots were always strictly controlled and WDI always needed to know exactly what they were required to interact with. For this reason, they generally refused to have their puppets meet and greet children at the theme parks in case a WALL-E trod on a child's foot. Those who wanted to take a photograph with the character had to make do with a cardboard cutout.
Very small quantities of merchandise were sold for WALL-E, as Cars items were still popular, and many manufacturers were more interested in Speed Racer, which was a successful line despite the film's failure at the box office. Thinkway, which created the WALL-E toys, had previously made Toy Story dolls when other toy producers showed disinterest. Among Thinkway's items were a WALL-E that danced when connected to a music player, a toy that could be taken apart and reassembled, and a groundbreaking remote control toy of him and EVE that had motion sensors that allowed them to interact with players. There were even soft toys. The "Ultimate WALL-E" figures were not in stores until the film's home release in November 2008, at a retail price of almost $200, leading The Patriot-News to deem it an item for "hard-core fans and collectors only".
WALL-E has received nearly unanimous acclaim by film critics since its release. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 96% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based upon a sample of 200 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 94, based on 39 reviews. indieWire named WALL-E the 3rd best film of the year, based on their annual survey of 100 film critics, while Movie City News shows that WALL-E appeared in 162 different top ten lists, out of 286 different critics lists surveyed, the most mentions on a top ten list of any film released in 2008.
Richard Corliss of Time named WALL-E as his favorite film of 2008, noting the film succeeded in "connect[ing] with a huge audience" despite the main characters' lack of speech and "emotional signifiers like a mouth, eyebrows, shoulders [and] elbows". It "evoke[d] the splendor of the movie past" and he also compared WALL-E and EVE's relationship to the chemistry of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Other critics who named WALL-E as their favorite film of 2008 included Tom Charity of CNN, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, A. O. Scott of The New York Times, Christopher Orr of The New Republic, Ty Burr and Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe, Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal, and Anthony Lane of The New Yorker.
Todd McCarthy of Variety called the film "Pixar's ninth consecutive wonder", saying it was imaginative yet straightforward. He said it pushed the boundaries of animation by balancing esoteric ideas with more immediately accessible ones, and that the main difference between the film and other science fiction projects rooted in an apocalypse was its optimism. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter declared that WALL-E surpassed the achievements of Pixar's previous eight features and probably their most original film to date. He said it had the "heart, soul, spirit and romance" of the best silent films. Honeycutt said the film's definitive stroke of brilliance was in using a mix of archive film footage and computer graphics to trigger WALL-E's romantic leanings. He praised Burtt's sound design, saying "If there is such a thing as an aural sleight of hand, this is it."
Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun-Times found WALL-E "an enthralling animated film, a visual wonderment, and a decent science-fiction story". Ebert said the scarcity of dialogue would allow it to "cross language barriers" in a manner appropriate to the global theme, and noted it would appeal to adults and children. He praised the animation, saying the color palette was "bright and cheerful [...] and a little bit realistic", and that Pixar managed to generate a "curious" regard for the WALL-E, comparing his "rusty and hard-working and plucky" design favorably to more obvious attempts at creating "lovable" lead characters. He said WALL-E was concerned with ideas rather than spectacle, saying it would trigger stimulating "little thought"s for the younger viewers. He named it as one of his twenty favorite films of 2008 and argued it was "the best science-fiction movie in years".
The film was interpreted as tackling a topical, ecologically-minded agenda, though McCarthy said it did so with a lightness of touch that granted the viewer the ability to accept or ignore the message. Kyle Smith of the New York Post, wrote that by depicting future humans as "a flabby mass of peabrained idiots who are literally too fat to walk", WALL-E was darker and more cynical than any major Disney feature film he could recall. He compared the humans to the patrons of Disney's Parks and Resorts, adding, "I'm also not sure I've ever seen a major corporation spend so much money to issue an insult to its customers." Maura Judkis of U.S. News & World Report questioned whether this depiction of "frighteningly obese humans" would resonate with children and make them prefer to "play outside rather than in front of the computer, to avoid a similar fate". The interpretation led to criticism of the film by conservative commentators such as Fox News' Glenn Beck, and contributors to National Review Online including Shannen W. Coffin and Jonah Goldberg (although he admitted it was a "fascinating" and occasionally "brilliant" production).
A few notable critics have argued that the film is vastly overrated, claiming it failed to "live up to such blinding, high-wattage enthusiasm", and that there were "chasms of boredom watching it", in particular "the second and third acts spiraled into the expected". Other labels include "unimaginative", "surprisingly trite", "preachy" and "too long".
Patrick J. Ford of The American Conservative said WALL-E's conservative critics missed lessons in the film that he felt appealed to traditional conservatism. He argued that the mass consumerism in the film was not shown to be a product of big business, but of too close a tie between big business and big government: "The government unilaterally provided its citizens with everything they needed, and this lack of variety led to Earth's downfall." Responding to Coffin's claim that the film points out the "evils of mankind", Ford argued the only evils depicted were those that resulted from "losing touch with our own humanity" and that fundamental conservative representations such as the farm, the family unit, and "wholesome" entertainment were in the end held aloft by the human characters. He concluded, "By steering conservative families away from WALL-E, these commentators are doing their readers a great disservice."
WALL-E won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing at the 81st Academy Awards. Walt Disney Pictures also pushed for an Academy Award for Best Picture nomination, but it was not nominated, provoking controversy as to whether the Academy deliberately restricted WALL-E to the Best Animated Feature category, Peter Travers commented that "If there was ever a time where an animated feature deserved to be nominated for best picture it's Wall-E." Only two animated films, 1991's Beauty and the Beast and Pixar's next film 2009's Up, have ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. A reflective Stanton stated he was not disappointed the film was restricted to the Best Animated Film nomination because he was overwhelmed by the film's positive reception, and eventually "The line [between live-action and animation] is just getting so blurry that I think with each proceeding year, it's going to be tougher and tougher to say what's an animated movie and what's not an animated movie."
WALL-E made a healthy appearance at the various 2008 end-of-the-year awards circles, particularly in the Best Picture category, where animated films are often overlooked. It has won the award, or the equivalent of it, from the Boston Society of Film Critics (tied with Slumdog Millionaire), the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Central Ohio Film Critics awards, the Online Film Critics Society, and most notably the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, where it became the first animated feature to win the prestigious award. It was named as one of 2008's ten best films by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
It won Best Animated Feature Film at the 66th Golden Globe Awards, 81st Academy Awards and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards 2008. It was nominated for several awards at the 2009 Annie Awards, including Best Feature Film, Animated Effects, Character Animation, Direction, Production design, Storyboarding and Voice acting (for Ben Burtt); but was beaten out by Kung Fu Panda in every category. It won Best Animated Feature at the 62nd British Academy Film Awards, and was also nominated there for Best Music and Sound. Thomas Newman and Peter Gabriel won two Grammy Awards for "Down to Earth" and "Define Dancing". It won all three awards it was nominated for by the Visual Effects Society: Best Animation, Best Character Animation (for WALL-E and EVE in the truck) and Best Effects in the Animated Motion Picture categories. It became the first animated film to win Best Editing for a Comedy or Musical from the American Cinema Editors. In 2009, Stanton, Reardon and Docter won Nebula Award, beating The Dark Knight and the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Shrine". It was nominated for Best Animated Film and Best Director at the Saturn Awards.
At the British National Movie Awards, which is voted for by the public, it won Best Family Film. It was also voted Best Feature Film at the British Academy Children's Awards. WALL-E was listed at #63 on Empire's online poll of the 100 greatest movie characters, conducted in 2008.
In the far future, Earth has been covered with trash. Humans have decided to leave in a huge ship and will return when the planet is better. They have built hundreds of robots called WALL-E to make the trash into blocks and put it away to try to clean up the planet. One WALL-E is the last one that is still working, and spends his days cleaning trash up and putting away little things that he likes to play around with, like tapes, lights, and Rubik's cubes.
One day, a rocket lands on Earth. Another robot called EVE comes out. She is looking for signs of life. WALL-E attempts to become romantic with her by following her around. She does not seem to like WALL-E much at first, but later changes her mind. He invites her into his home, where he shows her a movie where people are dancing. When WALL-E shows her a plant that he found, she takes it and suddenly she and can not move. She does not respond to WALL-E. WALL-E protects her body from storms. He even takes her out on a date. After a couple of days, the same rocket comes down and another robot picks EVE up. WALL-E catches the outside of the ship and is blasted into space. The rocket then docks with the huge ship, the Axiom.
The viewer then gets a look at how life has changed on the ship. All people sit in chairs and are very fat because they do not exercise and due to how a lack of gravity destroys their muscles. Robots do most of the work. EVE is sent to the Captain's pad. If plant life is found, the ship will turn back to Earth. However, by the time she arrives in the captain's area, the plant is gone.
She and WALL-E (who has followed her) are then sent to another area to be repaired. During the repair, WALL-E thinks the robots are hurting EVE, so he breaks out and destroys the security system. As a result, all the robots cause trouble. EVE is mad at WALL-E and tries to send him away on a rocket. But then they see the bad robot who took the plant. The bad robot puts the plant in the rocket and sets it to explode. WALL-E is on the rocket when it launches. EVE chases after him. WALL-E escapes the rocket one second before it explodes. He also saved the plant. EVE is so happy that she gives WALL-E a kiss. The kiss makes an electric spark. They dance with each other outside in space; EVE can fly, and WALL-E uses a fire extinguisher he took from the rocket to get around.
The two of them go back to the Captain's area. The Captain watches videos EVE took of Earth. These videos also show WALL-E protecting EVE and taking her out on a date. EVE falls in love with WALL-E by watching this. The Captain wants to go back to Earth to fix the planet. However, the main robot, called Auto, says they can not go home. When the Captain asks why, Auto shows a video where the president said that Earth was not fit for humans forever and to keep piloting the ship forever around space. The captain refuses. The bad robot who took the plant takes the plant again. He throws it down a garbage shaft, but WALL-E catches it. Auto shocks WALL-E and sends him down the shaft. Auto then turns EVE off and throws her down the shaft. Auto locks the Captain in his room.
EVE turns on in a big room where the ship's garbage is sent into space. She finds WALL-E and finds he is badly hurt. WALL-E tells EVE that he has parts that can fix him on Earth. WALL-E and EVE try to get the ship to go back to Earth. But Auto hurts WALL-E even more. The Captain stands up and turns off Auto. The ship returns to Earth. EVE fixes WALL-E, but he does not remember who EVE is. EVE is sad and thinks WALL-E is gone forever. She gives him another kiss. The kiss makes another spark. The spark makes WALL-E remember EVE. WALL-E and EVE are happy. The humans step out of the ship on Earth and begin fixing the planet.