Wall-E is unusual: Set 800 years in the future, its first half does entirely without human dialogue and lives instead on a nourishing diet of sound effects and music.
Our hero is a robotic trash compactor who has been quietly doing his job, attacking endless mountains of garbage on a truly frightening-looking Earth. Unless you count his pal, a convivial cockroach, Wall-E is the only thing still moving on a planet whose population has been moved to outer space.
This cranky old bachelor robot has developed a fixation on an old movie he's found. (It is, of all things, Hello, Dolly!) What entrances Wall-E about the film? The spectacle of people expressing emotion by holding hands.
This lonely Robinson Crusoe would like nothing better than to hold hands with another entity. And then it happens: A rocket ship lands, and another machine, a droid named Eve, arrives.
What happens between Wall-E and Eve, and how they connect to all the humans out in space, is where the film is going. That part of the story gets increasingly familiar and sometimes borders on the predictably sentimental.
But through it all, Wall-E never loses its sense of wonder: wonder at life, wonder at the universe, even wonder at the power of computer animation to bring us to worlds we've never seen before.
Wall-E is daring and traditional, groundbreaking and familiar, apocalyptic and sentimental — and how often do we get to say that in these dispiriting times?