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Rating: * * * * *

Verdict: Unlikely as it might seem, the story of two star-crossed robots delivers a cartoon classic

You might see this as backward thinking. Pixar, after all, started off animating a lamp. Now, after creating a world of toys, ants, monsters, fish superheroes, more toys, cars and rats they've got all the way to robots.

Robots without much of a vocabulary, as it turns out. Robots with only each other for company, mostly.

Right. So those clever boffins, having got going on a pogo-ing lantern, have now used their megacomputers and megamillions to animate a rusty metal box with binoculars for eyes and caterpillar tracks for feet. Like great, when does the main feature start?

But if you think Wall-E doesn't exactly appear a giant leap for animation-kind, you would be wrong. For one thing, robots are cool. No great sci-fi movie has ever suffered for having too many robots.

For another thing, Wall-E is a wonder on almost every level - visually, comedically, romantically, narratively, thematically.

It might be a G-rated cartoon but there's something fairly profound happening all around Wall-E. It's not just the obvious ecology stuff about a planet which has trashed itself but built solar-powered robots to clean up. There is something faintly, well, Kubrick-ish - and not just because there's an allusion or two to 2001: A Space Odyssey once Wall-E escapes Earth in pursuit of his robo-love, Eve.

When it's just Wall-E, the last robot on earth, still dutifully compacting the garbage that mankind left behind before evacuating the planet, it feels like a neighbour to the world Kubrick envisioned - and Spielberg realised - in A.I. which also wondered about robots' capacity for love.

This does too. But it's an odd couple kind of match-up that is recognisable from a thousand previous romances involving people.

He's the slightly battered-by-life lonely, hard-working type prone to a bit of star-gazing, collecting stuff and fixated on the movie version of Hello Dolly (songs from which pepper the soundtrack very neatly). She, on the other hand, is the gleaming white probe from outer space checking on the polluted planet's viability. Her career gets in the way. She has to leave town. He follows... and soon they are dancing in the stars together.

Well, that's kind of how it goes. And it must be said the final act of the movie, though much busier and noisier and involving a lot more robots and the  sorry remnants of mankind, isn't quite as wondrous as the first two acts , especially as Wall-E gets a little crowded out.

The film spends a lot of time revealing to us Wall-E's barren, beautiful world and his lonely life before anything really happens. Those with Looney Toons attention spans - young and old - might start getting restless (though Presto, the frenetic short about a magician and his pesky rabbit screening beforehand should help). But once Eve descends from the heavens, and Wall-E gets up the courage to introduce himself, it's the start of an exhilarating giddiness that lasts throughout this magical film and beyond. A masterpiece.

Russell Baillie

Voices: Ben Burtt, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy

Director: Andrew Stanton

Rating: G

Running time: 98 mins

Screening: SkyCity, Hoyts, Berkeley, Matakana

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