This Pixar masterpiece manages to be profoundly moving and thought-provoking, yet still entertaining. Who would've expected that from an animated feature with stretches of near-silence, a deeply intellectual and ecological bent, and a robot with relatively few bells and whistles? Much of the credit is due to Andrew Stanton, who directed and cowrote (with Jim Reardon) the movie, which takes Pixar's success in turning out animated hits to the next level. Gorgeously detailed and, more important, ambitiously challenging, WALL-E is cinematic art -- especially early on, when WALL-E, alone on Earth, plays with his trusty cockroach sidekick, or, later, courts a reluctant EVE. They interact as if in an intricately choreographed silent movie, or, yes, a musical: She's aloof, he's smitten; she's distant, he's bowled over. (Kudos to Ben Burtt for adding such emotion to WALL-E's squeaks and bleeps.)
Early scenes in which WALL-E wonders at the detritus of human life -- a velvet box holding a diamond, a rubber duckie, a spork -- are especially poignant, particularly when juxtaposed against the massive pile of waste he's meant to tame. The movie's pro-planet message is hardly subtle, but it feels refreshing to see an animated film take a stand about a political and social issue. The virtually dialogue-free first act may stretch a bit too long for younger audiences -- even though they'll benefit from being given a green lesson in such a lively, fun package -- but they'll get the animated action-adventure they crave soon enough. By the end, WALL-E feels less artsy and more like the typical Pixar film -- not that there's anything wrong with that.