WALL-E is a trash-pickup-and-compaction robot, apparently the last of his kind, in a sterile post-apocalyptic world. His only companion, naturally enough, is a cockroach. This is a fairly dark setup for a Pixar feature, but WALL-E immediately establishes himself as a sympathetic character. (Yes, "last of his kind", "himself", and "character".) For reasons unknown, WALL-E is selective: Most trash (almost all of it bears the logo of Buy-N-Large, a Wal-Mart style superstore that apparently took over the world's economy altogether) is compacted into cubes, which are in turn stacked into skyscraper-high refuse piles. Certain artifacts of the vanished human culture, however, WALL-E places in an Igloo cooler and takes home (yes, he has a home) for his collection. He watches a VHS of Hello, Dolly! every evening, and has learned to replicate some of the musical's dances. Clearly there is a ghost in this machine, and expressive eyes give "voice" to WALL-E's spirit.
The ennui of endlessly repetitive days is broken when WALL-E finds a plant growing inside an old refrigerator, then again when a giant spaceship drops off a lethal (shoot laser blaster first, ask questions later) yet alluring probe. WALL-E manages to escape destruction, "befriends" the probe EVE, and shows her the Hello, Dolly! video along with other elements of his collection. But just as WALL-E was programmed to clean up trash, EVE obviously has a mission as well, and it's clear she is searching for something. When WALL-E offers her the plant as a "romantic" gesture, the pieces fall into place and the story changes gears: The giant spaceship returns to pick up EVE, the devoted WALL-E stows away, and they blast off to rejoin what is left of humanity aboard a Buy-N-Large starship far, far away.
WALL-E is a social and environmental parable, touching on themes such as rampant consumerism, overdependence on technology, sedentary lifestyles, and the decline of face-to-face communication, yet it doesn't beat you over the head with heavy moralizing. The interactions between WALL-E and EVE, despite the near-absense of dialogue, carry the film with poignance, humor and, yes, robotic romance. This isn't just a kids' movie, but it does work as a kids' movie. Go see it, with or without a kid—and by all means stay for the end credits, especially if you're a fan of Peter Gabriel's music. "Down to Earth", complete with soaring background vocals by the Soweto Gospel Choir, is my new favorite song after one listen.