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Robot Love
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In the grand tradition of making movies with cute, anthropomorphic robots - a la "Short Circuit" and "Star Wars" (if you can call a handful of movies a tradition) - "WALL-E," Pixar's latest creation under its contract to Disney, is a definite crowd pleaser, with plenty of Pixar's trademark wit and storytelling heart.

 WALL-E, which stands for "Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-class," is the last of his model left behind to clean up the garbage dump that humans made of Earth.

 Mankind fled on a permanent vacation five centuries ago aboard a gigantic, corporate-sponsored cruise space-ship with robots catering to their every gluttonous desire, leaving humans little more than bean bag-shaped consumers of "Buy-n-Large" brand products. They're scheduled to return whenever the clean up is done, which seems like a long shot.

 Back on the scorched landscape of Earth, WALL-E keeps chugging away on his singular mission, compacting trash and piling it, like a lonely ant piling grains of sand.

 Over the years, WALL-E has developed a mischievous curiosity, a collector's zeal and an affinity for the musical "Hello Dolly." He's made friends with one of the last living things on Earth - a cockroach, of course - but he still feels loneliness, until the arrival of another robot rocks his world.

 Cool, elegant and technologically advanced by centuries, EVE (yes, this is an acronym too: Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is way out of his league, but that doesn't stop him from falling head-over-wheels for her. The little trash compactor strives mightily to win her affections, but EVE is slow to warm and mostly ignores him - driven by her program to find plant life on Earth - until WALL-E inadvertently gives her the one thing she's looking for. This sets off a series of events that has our protagonist braving the depths of space to protect her and mankind deciding whether they should come back to Earth and cleanup their own mess.

 The tale could have easily veered into deeper morality-play waters. Man's hubris with technology seems to be an irresistible lesson for most space-opera movies. But, "WALL-E" keeps a light touch and mixes a balance of puppy-love, slapstick and rich visuals while throwing in a bit of comic preaching about the dangers of trying to do things the "easy way" and the importance of taking care of our resources.

 This might be one of the noisiest, dialogue-sparse love stories ever made. Dialogue throughout the movie is at a minimum, confined to surprisingly expressive bleeps, chirrups and synthesized voice exclamations from the robots, created by Ben Burrt, who was also the creator of R2D2's voice and sound effects on "Star Wars." This is a movie that shows rather than tells the story through the movements and "expressions" the animators achieve on the robots, from the flustered cleanup 'bot chasing down dirt tracks to WALL-E's soulful "eyes."

 The visuals are vivid and the simulated camera work a nice touch. One scene - WALL-E trips and runs from a herd of shopping carts rolling after him while EVE shakes her head - looks like it could have been captured on a bystander's phone camera and posted on YouTube.

 It's interesting to see the exponential development of computer animation from the days of Toy Story (1995), Pixar's first hit computer-animated feature film. Director Andrew Stanton reportedly devised the idea for "WALL-E" before "Toy Story," but wasn't sure about the love-story aspect of it and decided to go with "Toy Story" first, according to an interview on movie Web site Ain't-It-Cool News.

 With the Independence Day weekend coming up, this light, fun, safe-for-all-ages film is just the thing to occupy your time.

 Grade: B+

 "WALL-E" is rated G and has a runtime of 103 minutes.