In 2805, Earth is abandoned and largely contaminated with garbage, with its people evacuated by megacorporation Buy-N-Large on giant starliners. BnL has left behind WALL-E robot trash compactors to clean up; however, all have since stopped functioning, except one unit who has gained sentience and is able to stay active using parts from other units. One day, WALL-E discovers a healthy seedling, which he returns to his home. Later, an unmanned spaceship lands and deploys an EVE probe to scan the planet. WALL-E is infatuated with EVE, who is initially hostile but gradually befriends him. When WALL-E brings EVE to his trailer and shows her the plant, however, she suddenly takes the plant and goes into standby mode. WALL-E, confused, unsuccessfully tries to reactivate her. The ship then returns to collect EVE, and with WALL-E clinging on, returns to its mothership, the starliner Axiom.
The Axiom's passengers have become obese and feeble due to microgravity and reliance on an automated lifestyle, including the ship's current captain, McCrea, who leaves the ship under the control of the robotic autopilot, AUTO. EVE is taken to the bridge, with WALL-E tagging along. McCrea is unprepared for a positive probe response, but learns that placing EVE's plant in the ship's Holo-Detector for verification will trigger a hyperjump back to Earth so humanity can recolonize it. However, AUTO orders his robotic assistant GO-4 to steal the plant to prevent this from happening.
With the plant missing, EVE is deemed faulty and taken to Diagnostics. WALL-E mistakes the procedure as torture, and in intervening accidentally frees a group of malfunctioning robots and causes both EVE and himself to be designated as rogue. Frustrated, EVE takes WALL-E to an escape pod to send him home, but they are interrupted when GO-4 arrives with the plant, placing it in a pod set to self-destruct, which WALL-E enters just before it is jettisoned. WALL-E escapes, saving the plant, and he and EVE reconcile and celebrate with a dance in space around the Axiom.
EVE brings the plant back to McCrea, who watches EVE's recordings of Earth and concludes that they must return. However, AUTO refuses, revealing his own secret no-return directive A113, issued to BnL autopilots after the corporation concluded years earlier that the planet could not be saved. He mutinies, tasering WALL-E and deactivating EVE and throwing them both down the garbage chute, then detaining McCrea. EVE automatically reactivates and helps WALL-E bring the plant to the ship's Holo-Detector chamber; AUTO tries to close the chamber, crushing WALL-E when he struggles to keep it open, but McCrea is able to deactivate him and destroy GO-4, while EVE inserts the plant to activate the hyperjump.
Having arrived back on Earth, EVE repairs and reactivates WALL-E, but finds that his memory has been reset and his personality is gone. Heartbroken, EVE gives WALL-E a farewell kiss, which sparks his memory back to life and restores his original personality. WALL-E and EVE reunite as the humans and robots of the Axiom begin to restore Earth and its environment.Ben Burtt as WALL-E, the title character. WALL-E, a robot who has developed sentience, and is the only robot of his kind shown to be still functioning on Earth. He is a small mobile compactor box with all-terrain treads, three-fingered shovel hands, binocular eyes, and retractable solar cells for power. Although working diligently to fulfill his directive to clean up the garbage (all the while accompanied by his cockroach friend Hal and music playing from his on-board recorder) he is distracted by his curiosity, collecting trinkets of interest. He stores and displays these "treasures" such as a birdcage full of rubber ducks, a Rubik's Cube, Zippos, disposable cups filled with plastic cutlery and a golden trophy at his home where he examines and categorizes his finds while watching a video cassette of Hello, Dolly! via an iPod viewed through a large Fresnel lens.
Elissa Knight as EVE, a sleek robot probe whose directive is to locate vegetation on Earth and verify habitability. She has a glossy white egg-shaped body and blue LED eyes. She moves using antigravity technology and is equipped with scanners, specimen storage and a "quasar ion cannon" in her arm, which she is quick to use.
Jeff Garlin as Captain B. McCrea, the commanding pilot of the Axiom. His duties as captain are daily routines, with the ship's autopilot handling all true command functions.
Fred Willard as Shelby Forthright, the historical CEO of the Buy n Large Corporation, shown only in videos recorded around the time of the Axiom's initial launch. Constantly optimistic, Forthright proposed the evacuation plans, then to clean up and recolonize the planet. However, the corporation gave up after realizing how toxic Earth had become. Forthright is the one of the few live action characters with a speaking role, the first in any Pixar film.
John Ratzenberger and Kathy Najimy as John and Mary, respectively. John and Mary both live on the Axiom and are so dependent on their personal video screens and automatic services that they are oblivious to their surroundings, for instance not noticing that the ship features a giant swimming pool. However, they are brought out of their trances after separate encounters with WALL-E, eventually meeting face-to-face for the first time.
Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the Axiom's computer. Stanton joked about the role with Weaver, saying, "You realize you get to be 'Mother' now?" referring to the name of the ship's computer in the film Alien, which also starred Weaver.
MacInTalk, the text-to-speech program for the Apple Macintosh computers, was used for the voice of AUTO, the rogue artificial intelligence autopilot built into the ship. Unlike other robots in the film, AUTO is not influenced by WALL-E, but instead follows directive A113, which is to prevent the Axiom and the humans from returning to Earth because of the toxicity, and it works to prevent anyone from deviating from it.
Burtt and MacInTalk are also credited for the voice of M-O, as well as most of the other robots. M-O is a tiny, obsessively clean maintenance cleanerbot with rollers for arms who keeps the Axiom clean.
Andrew Stanton conceived WALL-E during a lunch with fellow writers John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft in 1994. Toy Story was near completion and the writers brainstormed ideas for their next projects—A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo—at this lunch. Stanton asked, "What if mankind had to leave Earth and somebody forgot to turn off the last robot?" Having struggled for many years with making the characters in Toy Story appealing, Stanton found his simple Robinson Crusoe-esque idea of a lonely robot on a deserted planet strong. Stanton made WALL-E a waste collector as the idea was instantly understandable, and because it was a low-status menial job that made him sympathetic. Stanton also liked the imagery of stacked cubes of garbage. He did not find the idea dark because having a planet covered in garbage was for him a childish imagining of disaster.
Stanton and Pete Docter developed the film under the title of Trash Planet for two months in 1995, but they did not know how to develop the story and Docter chose to direct Monsters, Inc. instead. Stanton came up with the idea of WALL-E finding a plant, because his life as the sole inhabitant on a deserted world reminded Stanton of a plant growing among pavements. Before they turned their attention to other projects, Stanton and Lasseter thought about having WALL-E fall in love, as it was the necessary progression away from loneliness. Stanton started writing WALL-E again in 2002 while completing Finding Nemo. Stanton formatted his script in a manner reminiscent of Dan O'Bannon's Alien. O'Bannon wrote his script in a manner Stanton found reminded him of haiku, where visual descriptions were done in continuous lines of a few words. Stanton wrote his robot dialogue conventionally, but placed them in brackets. In late 2003, Stanton and a few others created a story reel of the first twenty minutes of the film. Lasseter and Steve Jobs were impressed and officially began development, though Jobs stated he did not like the title, originally spelled "W.A.L.-E."
While the first act of WALL-E "fell out of the sky" for Stanton, he had originally wanted aliens to plant EVE to explore Earth and the rest of the film was different. When WALL-E comes to the Axiom, he incites a Spartacus-style rebellion by the robots against the remnants of the human race, which were cruel alien Gels (completely devolved, gelatinous, boneless, legless, see-through, green creatures that resemble Jell-O). James Hicks, a physiologist, mentioned to Stanton the concept of atrophy and the effects prolonged weightlessness would have on humans living in space for an inordinately extended time period. Therefore, this was the inspiration of the humans degenerating into the alien Gels, and their ancestry would have been revealed in a Planet of the Apes-style ending. The Gels also spoke a made-up gibberish language, but Stanton scrapped this idea because he thought it would be too complicated for the audience to understand and they could easily be driven off from the storyline. The Gels had a royal family, who host a dance in a castle on a lake in the back of the ship, and the Axiom curled up into a ball when returning to Earth in this incarnation of the story. Stanton decided this was too bizarre and unengaging, and conceived humanity as "big babies". Stanton developed the metaphorical theme of the humans learning to stand again and "grow[ing] up", wanting WALL-E and EVE's relationship to inspire humanity because he felt few films explore how utopian societies come to exist. The process of depicting the descendants of humanity as the way they appear in the movie was slow. Stanton first decided to put a nose and ears on the Gels so the audience could recognize them. Eventually, fingers, legs, clothes, and other characteristics were added until they arrived at the concept of being fetus-like to allow the audience to see themselves in the characters.
In a later version of the film, Auto comes to the docking bay to retrieve EVE's plant. The film would have its first cutaway to the captain, but Stanton moved that as he found it too early to begin moving away from WALL-E's point-of-view. As an homage to Get Smart, Auto takes the plant and goes into the bowels of the ship into a room resembling a brain where he watches videos of Buy n Large's scheme to clean up the Earth falling apart through the years. Stanton removed this to keep some mystery as to why the plant is taken from EVE. The captain appears to be unintelligent, but Stanton wanted him to just be unchallenged; otherwise he would have been unempathetic. One example of how unintelligent the captain was depicted initially is that he was seen to wear his hat upside-down, only to fix it before he challenges Auto. In the finished film, he merely wears it casually atop his head, tightening it when he assumes real command of the Axiom.
Originally, EVE would have been electrocuted by Auto, and then be quickly saved from ejection at the hands of the WALL-A robots by WALL-E. He would have then revived her by replacing her power unit with a cigarette lighter he brought from Earth. Stanton reversed this following a 2007 test screening, as he wanted to show EVE replacing her directive of bringing the plant to the captain with repairing WALL-E, and it made WALL-E even more heroic if he held the holo-detector open despite being badly hurt. Stanton also moved the moment where WALL-E reveals his plant (which he had snatched from the self-destructing escape pod) from producing it from a closet to immediately after his escape, as it made EVE happier and gave them stronger motivation to dance around the ship. Stanton felt half the audience at the screening believed the humans would be unable to cope with living on Earth and would have died out after the film's end. Jim Capobianco, director of the Ratatouille short film Your Friend the Rat, created an end credits animation that continued the story—and stylized in different artistic movements throughout history—to clarify an optimistic tone.
WALL-E was the most complex Pixar production since Monsters, Inc. because of the world and the history that had to be conveyed. Whereas most Pixar films have up to 75,000 storyboards, WALL-E required 125,000. Production designer Ralph Eggleston wanted the lighting of the first act on Earth to be romantic, and that of the second act on the Axiom to be cold and sterile. During the third act, the romantic lighting is slowly introduced into the Axiom environment. Pixar studied Chernobyl and the city of Sofia to create the ruined world; art director Anthony Christov was from Bulgaria and recalled Sofia used to have problems storing its garbage. Eggleston bleached out the whites on Earth to make WALL-E feel vulnerable. The overexposed light makes the location look more vast. Because of the haziness, the cubes making up the towers of garbage had to be large, otherwise they would have lost shape (in turn, this helped save rendering time). The dull tans of Earth subtly become soft pinks and blues when EVE arrives. When WALL-E shows EVE all his collected items, all the lights he has collected light up to give an inviting atmosphere, like a Christmas tree. Eggleston tried to avoid the colors yellow and green so WALL-E—who was made yellow to emulate a tractor—would not blend into the deserted Earth, and to make the plant more prominent.
Stanton also wanted the lighting to look realistic and evoke the science fiction films of his youth. He thought that Pixar captured the physics of being underwater with Finding Nemo and so for WALL-E, he wanted to push that for air. While rewatching some of his favorite science fiction films, he realized that Pixar's other movies had lacked the look of 70 mm film and its barrel distortion, lens flare, and racking focus. Producer Jim Morris invited Roger Deakins and Dennis Muren to advise on lighting and atmosphere. Muren spent several months with Pixar, while Deakins hosted one talk and was requested to stay on for another two weeks. Stanton said Muren's experience came from integrating computer animation into live-action settings, while Deakins helped them understand not to overly complicate their camerawork and lighting. 1970s Panavision cameras were used to help the animators understand and replicate handheld imperfections like unfocused backgrounds in digital environments. The first lighting test included building a three-dimensional replica of WALL-E, filming it with a 70 mm camera, and then trying to replicate that in the computer. Stanton cited the shallow lens work of Gus Van Sant's films as an influence, as it created intimacy in each close-up. Stanton chose angles for the virtual cameras that a live-action filmmaker would choose if filming on a set.
Stanton wanted the Axiom's interior to resemble Shanghai and Dubai. Eggleston studied 1960s NASA paintings and the original concept art for Tomorrowland for the Axiom, to reflect that era's sense of optimism. Stanton remarked "We are all probably very similar in our backgrounds here [at Pixar] in that we all miss the Tomorrowland that was promised us from the heyday of Disneyland," and wanted a "jet pack" feel. Pixar also studied the Disney Cruise Line and visited Las Vegas, which was helpful in understanding artificial lighting. Eggleston based his Axiom designs on the futuristic architecture of Santiago Calatrava. Eggleston divided the inside of the ship into three sections; the rear's economy class has a basic gray concrete texture with graphics keeping to the red, blue, and white of the BnL logo. The coach class with living/shopping spaces has "S" shapes as people are always looking for "what's around the corner". Stanton intended to have many colorful signs, but he realized this would overwhelm the audience and went with Eggleston's original idea of a small number of larger signs. The premier class is a large Zen-like spa with colors limited to turquoise, cream, and tan, and leads on to the captain's warm carpeted and wooded quarters and the sleek dark bridge. In keeping with the artificial Axiom, camera movements were modeled after those of the steadicam.
The use of live action was a stepping stone for Pixar, as Stanton was planning to make John Carter of Mars his next project. Storyboarder Derek Thompson noted introducing live action meant that they would make the rest of the film look even more realistic. Eggleston added that if the historical humans had been animated and slightly caricaturized, the audience then would not have been able to recognize how serious their devolution was. Stanton cast Fred Willard as the historical Buy n Large CEO because "[h]e's the most friendly and insincere car salesman I could think of." The CEO says "stay the course", which Stanton used because he thought it was funny. Industrial Light & Magic did the visual effects for these shots.
WALL-E went undeveloped during the 1990s partly because Stanton and Pixar were not confident enough yet to have a feature length film with a main character that behaved like Luxo Jr. or R2-D2. Stanton explained there are two types of robots in cinema: "human[s] with metal skin", like the Tin Man, or "machine[s] with function" like Luxo and R2. He found the latter idea "powerful" because it allowed the audience to project personalities onto the characters, as they do with babies and pets: "You're compelled ... you almost can't stop yourself from finishing the sentence 'Oh, I think it likes me! I think it's hungry! I think it wants to go for a walk!'" He added, "We wanted the audience to believe they were witnessing a machine that has come to life." The animators visited recycling stations to study machinery, and also met robot designers, visited NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to study robots, watched a recording of a Mars rover, and borrowed a bomb detecting robot from the San Francisco Police Department. Simplicity was preferred in their performances as giving them too many movements would make them feel human.
Stanton wanted WALL-E to be a box and EVE to be like an egg. WALL-E's eyes were inspired by a pair of binoculars Stanton was given when watching the Oakland Athletics play against the Boston Red Sox. He "missed the entire inning" because he was distracted by them. The director was reminded of Buster Keaton and decided the robot would not need a nose or mouth. Stanton added a zoom lens to make WALL-E more sympathetic. Ralph Eggleston noted this feature gave the animators more to work with and gave the robot a childlike quality. Pixar's studies of trash compactors during their visits to recycling stations inspired his body. His tank treads were inspired by a wheelchair someone had developed that used treads instead of wheels. The animators wanted him to have elbows, but realized this was unrealistic because he is only designed to pull garbage into his body. His arms also looked flimsy when they did a test of him waving. Animation director Angus MacLane suggested they attach his arms to a track on the sides of his body to move them around, based on the inkjet printers his father designed. This arm design contributed to creating the character's posture, so if they wanted him to be nervous, they would lower them. Stanton was unaware of the similarities between WALL-E and Johnny 5 from Short Circuit until others pointed it out to him.
Stanton wanted EVE to be at the higher end of technology, and asked iPod designer Jonathan Ive to inspect her design. He was very impressed. Her eyes are modelled on Lite-Brite toys, but Pixar chose not to make them overly expressive as it would be too easy to have her eyes turn into hearts to express love or something similar. Her limited design meant the animators had to treat her like a drawing, relying on posing her body to express emotion. They also found her similar to a manatee or a narwhal because her floating body resembled an underwater creature. Auto was a conscious homage to HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the usage of Also sprach Zarathustra for the showdown between the captain and Auto furthers that. The manner in which he hangs from a wall gives him a threatening feel, like a spider. Originally, Auto was designed entirely differently, resembling EVE, but masculine and authoritative; the Steward robots were also more aggressive Patrol-bots. The majority of the robot cast were formed with the Build-a-bot program, where different heads, arms and treads were combined together in over a hundred variations. The humans were modelled on sea lions due to their blubbery bodies, as well as babies. The filmmakers noticed baby fat is a lot tighter than adult fat and copied that texture for the film's humans.
To animate their robots, the film's story crew and animation crew watched a Keaton and a Charlie Chaplin film every day for almost a year, and occasionally a Harold Lloyd picture. Afterwards, the filmmakers knew all emotions could be conveyed silently. Stanton cited Keaton's "great stone face" as giving them perseverance in animating a character with an unchanging expression. As he rewatched these, Stanton felt that filmmakers—since the advent of sound—relied on dialogue too much to convey exposition. The filmmakers dubbed the cockroach WALL-E keeps as a pet "Hal", in reference to silent film producer Hal Roach (as well as being an additional reference to HAL 9000). They also watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf, films that had sound but were not reliant on dialogue. Stanton acknowledged Silent Running as an influence because its silent robots were a forerunner to the likes of R2-D2, and that the "hopeless romantic" Woody Allen also inspired WALL-E.
Producer Jim Morris recommended Ben Burtt as sound designer for WALL-E because Stanton kept using R2-D2 as the benchmark for the robots. Burtt had completed Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and told his wife he would no longer work on films with robots, but found WALL-E and its substitution of voices with sound "fresh and exciting". He recorded 2500 sounds for the film, which was twice the average number for a Star Wars film, and a record in his career. Burtt began work in 2005, and experimented with filtering his voice for two years. Burtt described the robot voices as "like a toddler [...] universal language of intonation. 'Oh', 'Hm?', 'Huh!', you know?"
During production Burtt had the opportunity to look at the items used by Jimmy MacDonald, Disney's in-house sound designer for many of their classic films. Burtt used many of MacDonald's items on WALL-E. Because Burtt was not simply adding sound effects in post-production, the animators were always evaluating his new creations and ideas, which Burtt found an unusual experience. He worked in sync with the animators, returning their animation after adding the sounds to give them more ideas. Burtt would choose scientifically accurate sounds for each character, but if he could not find one that worked, he would choose a dramatic and unrealistic noise. Burtt would find hundreds of sounds by looking at concept art of characters, before he and Stanton pared it down to a distinct few for each robot.
Burtt saw a hand-cranked electrical generator while watching Island in the Sky, and bought an identical, unpacked device from 1950 on eBay to use for WALL-E moving around. Burtt also used an automobile self starter for when WALL-E goes fast, and the sound of cars being wrecked at a demolition derby provided for WALL-E's compressing trash in his body. The Macintosh computer chime was used to signify when WALL-E has fully recharged his battery. For EVE, Burtt wanted her humming to have a musical quality. Burtt was only able to provide neutral or masculine voices, so Pixar employee Elissa Knight was asked to provide her voice for Burtt to electronically modify. Stanton deemed the sound effect good enough to properly cast her in the role. Burtt recorded a flying 10-foot-long (3.0 m) radio-controlled jet plane for EVE's flying, and for her plasma cannon, Burtt hit a slinky hung from a ladder with a timpani stick. He described it as a "cousin" to the blaster noise from Star Wars.
MacInTalk was used because Stanton "wanted Auto to be the epitome of a robot, cold, zeros & ones, calculating, and soulless [and] Stephen Hawking's kind of voice I thought was perfect." Additional sounds for the character were meant to give him a clockwork feel, to show he is always thinking and calculating.
Burtt had visited Niagara Falls in 1987 and used his recordings from his trip for the sounds of wind. He ran around a hall with a canvas bag up to record the sandstorm though. For the scene where WALL-E runs from falling shopping carts, Burtt and his daughter went to a supermarket and placed a recorder in their cart. They crashed it around the parking lot and then let it tumble down a hill. To create Hal (WALL-E's pet cockroach)'s skittering, he recorded the clicking caused by taking apart and reassembling handcuffs.
Thomas Newman recollaborated with Stanton on WALL-E since the two got along well on Nemo, which gave Newman the Annie Award for Best Music in an Animated Feature. He began writing the score in 2005, in the hope that starting this task early would make him more involved with the finished film. But, Newman remarked that animation is so dependent on scheduling he should have begun work earlier on when Stanton and Reardon were writing the script. EVE's theme was arranged for the first time in October 2007. Her theme when played as she first flies around Earth originally used more orchestral elements, and Newman was encouraged to make it sound more feminine. Newman said Stanton had thought up many ideas for how he wanted the music to sound, and he generally followed them as he found scoring a partially silent film difficult. Stanton wanted the whole score to be orchestral, but Newman felt limited by this idea especially in scenes aboard the Axiom, and used electronics too.
Stanton originally wanted to juxtapose the opening shots of space with 1930s French swing music, but he saw The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and did not want to appear as if he were copying it. Stanton then thought about the song "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello, Dolly!, since he had portrayed the sidekick Barnaby Tucker in a 1980 high school production. Stanton found that the song was about two naive young men looking for love, which was similar to WALL-E's own hope for companionship. Jim Reardon suggested WALL-E find the film on video, and Stanton included "It Only Takes a Moment" and the clip of the actors holding hands, because he wanted a visual way to show how WALL-E understands love and conveys it to EVE. Hello Dolly! composer Jerry Herman allowed the songs to be used without knowing what for; when he saw the film, he found its incorporation into the story "genius". Coincidentally, Newman's uncle Lionel worked on Hello, Dolly!
Newman travelled to London to compose the end credits song "Down to Earth" with Peter Gabriel, who was one of Stanton's favorite musicians. Afterwards, Newman rescored some of the film to include the song's composition, so it would not sound intrusive when played. Louis Armstrong's rendition of "La Vie en rose" was used for a montage where WALL-E does not get EVE's attention on Earth. The script also specified using Bing Crosby's "Stardust" for when the two robots dance around the Axiom, but Newman asked if he could score the scene himself. A similar switch occurred for the sequence in which WALL-E attempts to wake EVE up through various means; originally, the montage would play with the instrumental version of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", but Newman wanted to challenge himself and scored an original piece for the sequence.
This movie is widely recognized as a critique on society. It brings up real issues that the world, and especially densely populated areas, are dealing with today and even more so in the future. Katherine Ellison asserts that "Americans produce nearly 400 million tons of solid waste per year but recycle less than a third of it, according to a recent Columbia University study." Landfills are filling up so quickly that the UK may run out of landfill space by the year 2017.
Because WALL-E overtly critiques consumerism, it also critiques Disney's production values and aesthetic, without being too obvious. In the DVD commentary, Stanton said that he has been asked if it was his intention to make a movie about consumerism. His answer was it was not; it was a way to answer the question of how would the Earth get to the state where one robot would be left to continue the cleanup by itself.
In "WALL-E: from environmental adaption to sentimental nostalgia," Robin Murray and Joseph Heuman explain the important theme of nostalgia in this film. Nostalgia is clearly represented by human artifacts, left behind, that WALL-E collects and cherishes, i.e. Zippo lighters, hubcaps, and plastic sporks. These modern items that we use out of necessity, are made sentimental through the lens of the bleak future of Earth. Nostalgia is also expressed through the musical score, as the film opens with a camera shot of outer space that slowly zooms into a waste filled Earth while playing "Put on Your Sunday Clothes", reflecting on simpler and happier times in human history. This film also expresses nostalgia through the longing of nature and the natural world, as it is the sight and feeling of soil, and the plant brought back to the space ship by EVE, that make the captain decide it is time for humans to move back to Earth. WALL-E expresses nostalgia also, by reflecting on romantic themes of older Disney and silent films.
Stanton describes the theme of the film as "irrational love defeats life's programming":
I realized the point I was trying to push with these two programmed robots was the desire for them to try and figure out what the point of living was ... It took these really irrational acts of love to sort of discover them against how they were built ... I realized that that's a perfect metaphor for real life. We all fall into our habits, our routines and our ruts, consciously or unconsciously to avoid living. To avoid having to do the messy part. To avoid having relationships with other people or dealing with the person next to us. That's why we can all get on our cell phones and not have to deal with one another. I thought, 'That's a perfect amplification of the whole point of the movie.' I wanted to run with science in a way that would sort of logically project that.
Stanton noted many commentators placed emphasis on the environmental aspect of humanity's complacency in the film, because "that disconnection is going to be the cause, indirectly, of anything that happens in life that's bad for humanity or the planet". Stanton said that by taking away effort to work, the robots also take away humanity's need to put effort into relationships. Christian journalist Rod Dreher saw technology as the complicated villain of the film. The humans' artificial lifestyle on the Axiom has separated them from nature, making them "slaves of both technology and their own base appetites, and have lost what makes them human". Dreher contrasted the hardworking, dirt covered WALL-E with the sleek clean robots on the ship. However, it is the humans and not the robots who make themselves redundant. Humans on the ship and on Earth have overused robots and the ultra-modern technology. During the end credits, humans and robots are shown working alongside each other to renew the Earth. "WALL-E is not a Luddite film," he said. "It doesn't demonize technology. It only argues that technology is properly used to help humans cultivate their true nature—that it must be subordinate to human flourishing, and help move that along."
Stanton, who is a Christian, named EVE after the Biblical figure because WALL-E's loneliness reminded him of Adam, before God created his wife. Dreher noted EVE's biblical namesake and saw her directive as an inversion of that story; EVE uses the plant to tell humanity to return to Earth and move away from the "false god" of BnL and the lazy lifestyle it offers. Dreher also noted this departure from classical Christian viewpoints, where Adam is cursed to labor, in that WALL-E argues hard work is what makes humans human. Dreher emphasized the false god parallels to BnL in a scene where a robot teaches infants "B is for Buy n Large, your very best friend", which he compared to modern corporations such as McDonald's creating brand loyalty in children. Megan Basham of World magazine felt the film criticizes the pursuit of leisure, whereas WALL-E in his stewardship learns to truly appreciate God's creation.
During writing, a Pixar employee noted to Jim Reardon that EVE was reminiscent of the dove with the olive branch from the story of Noah's Ark, and the story was reworked with EVE finding a plant to return humanity from its voyage. WALL-E himself has been compared to Prometheus, Sisyphus, and Butades: in an essay discussing WALL-E as representative of the artistic strive of Pixar itself, Hrag Vartanian compared WALL-E to Butades in a scene where the robot expresses his love for EVE by making a sculpture of her from spare parts. "The Ancient Greek tradition associates the birth of art with a Corinthian maiden who longing to preserve her lover's shadow traces it on the wall before he departed for war. The myth reminds us that art was born out of longing and often means more for the creator than the muse. In the same way Stanton and his Pixar team have told us a deeply personal story about their love of cinema and their vision for animation through the prism of all types of relationships."
Continuing a Pixar tradition, WALL-E was paired with a short film for its theatrical release, Presto. The film was dedicated to Justin Wright (1981–2008), a Pixar animator who had worked on Ratatouille and died of a heart attack before WALL-E's release.
Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) built animatronic WALL-E's to promote the picture, which made appearances at Disneyland Resort, the Franklin Institute, the Miami Science Museum, the Seattle Center, and the Tokyo International Film Festival. Due to safety concerns, the 318 kg robots were always strictly controlled and WDI always needed to know exactly what they were required to interact with. For this reason, they generally refused to have their puppets meet and greet children at the theme parks in case a WALL-E trod on a child's foot. Those who wanted to take a photograph with the character had to make do with a cardboard cutout.
Very small quantities of merchandise were sold for WALL-E, as Cars items were still popular, and many manufacturers were more interested in Speed Racer, which was a successful line despite the film's failure at the box office. Thinkway, which created the WALL-E toys, had previously made Toy Story dolls when other toy producers had not shown an interest. Among Thinkway's items were a WALL-E that danced when connected to a music player, a toy that could be taken apart and reassembled, and a groundbreaking remote control toy of him and EVE that had motion sensors that allowed them to interact with players. There were even plushies. The "Ultimate WALL-E" figures were not in stores until the film's home release in November 2008, at a retail price of almost $200, leading The Patriot-News to deem it an item for "hard-core fans and collectors only". On February 4, 2015, Lego announced that a WALL-E custom built by lead animator Angus MacLane was the latest design approved for mass production and release as part of Lego Ideas.
The movie was not allowed to be screened in theaters in the People's Republic of China by authorities there.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on November 18, 2008. The various editions included Presto, a new short film BURN-E, the Leslie Iwerks documentary film The Pixar Story, shorts about the history of Buy n Large, behind-the-scenes special features, and a Digital Copy of the film that can be played through iTunes or Windows Media and compatible devices. This release sold 9,042,054 DVD units ($142,633,974) in total becoming the second best-selling animated DVD among those released in 2008 in units sold (behind Kung Fu Panda), the best-selling animated feature in sales revenue, and the third best-selling among all 2008 DVD's.
WALL-E grossed $223.8 million in the USA and Canada and $309.5 million overseas for a worldwide total of $533.3 million making it the ninth highest grossing film of 2008.
The film premiered at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on June 23, 2008.
In the US and Canada, it opened in 3,992 theaters on June 27, 2008. During its opening weekend, it topped the box office with $63,087,526 making this the fifth-best opening weekend for a Pixar film and the fourth-best opening among films released in June. The movie earned $94.7 million in its first week and crossed the $200 million mark during its sixth weekend.
WALL-E grossed over $10 million in Japan ($44,005,222), UK, Ireland and Malta ($41,215,600), France and the Maghreb region ($27,984,103), Germany ($24,130,400), Mexico ($17,679,805), Spain ($14,973,097), Australia ($14,165,390), Italy ($12,210,993), and Russia and the CIS ($11,694,482).
The American Film Institute named WALL-E as one of the best films of 2008; the jury rationale states:
WALL•E proves to this generation and beyond that the film medium's only true boundaries are the human imagination. Writer/director Andrew Stanton and his team have created a classic screen character from a metal trash compactor who rides to the rescue of a planet buried in the debris that embodies the broken promise of American life. Not since Chaplin's "Little Tramp" has so much story—so much emotion—been conveyed without words. When hope arrives in the form of a seedling, the film blossoms into one of the great screen romances as two robots remind audiences of the beating heart in all of us that yearns for humanity—and love—in the darkest of landscapes.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 96% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based upon a sample of 247 reviews, with an average rating of 8.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads "Charming, audacious, and timely, WALL-E's lighthearted magic and stellar visuals testify once again to Pixar's ingenuity." At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 95 based on 39 representing "universal acclaim". indieWire named WALL-E the third best film of the year based on their annual survey of 100 film critics, while Movie City News shows that WALL-E appeared in 162 different Top 10 lists, out of 286 different critics lists surveyed, the most mentions on a Top 10 list of any film released in 2008.
Richard Corliss of Time named WALL-E his favorite film of 2008 (and later of the decade), noting the film succeeded in "connect[ing] with a huge audience" despite the main characters' lack of speech and "emotional signifiers like a mouth, eyebrows, shoulders, [and] elbows". It "evoke[d] the splendor of the movie past" and he also compared WALL-E and EVE's relationship to the chemistry of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Other critics who named WALL-E their favorite film of 2008 included Tom Charity of CNN, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, A. O. Scott of The New York Times, Christopher Orr of The New Republic, Ty Burr and Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe, Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal, and Anthony Lane of The New Yorker.
Todd McCarthy of Variety called the film "Pixar's ninth consecutive wonder", saying it was imaginative yet straightforward. He said it pushed the boundaries of animation by balancing esoteric ideas with more immediately accessible ones, and that the main difference between the film and other science fiction projects rooted in an apocalypse was its optimism. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter declared that WALL-E surpassed the achievements of Pixar's previous eight features and probably their most original film to date. He said it had the "heart, soul, spirit and romance" of the best silent films. Honeycutt said the film's definitive stroke of brilliance was in using a mix of archive film footage and computer graphics to trigger WALL-E's romantic leanings. He praised Burtt's sound design, saying "If there is such a thing as an aural sleight of hand, this is it."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times named WALL-E "an enthralling animated film, a visual wonderment, and a decent science-fiction story" and said the scarcity of dialogue would allow it to "cross language barriers" in a manner appropriate to the global theme, and noted it would appeal to adults and children. He praised the animation, describing the color palette as "bright and cheerful [...] and a little bit realistic", and that Pixar managed to generate a "curious" regard for the WALL-E, comparing his "rusty and hard-working and plucky" design favorably to more obvious attempts at creating "lovable" lead characters. He said WALL-E was concerned with ideas rather than spectacle, saying it would trigger stimulating "little thoughts for the younger viewers." He named it as one of his twenty favorite films of 2008 and argued it was "the best science-fiction movie in years".
The film was interpreted as tackling a topical, ecologically-minded agenda, though McCarthy said it did so with a lightness of touch that granted the viewer the ability to accept or ignore the message. Kyle Smith of the New York Post, wrote that by depicting future humans as "a flabby mass of peabrained idiots who are literally too fat to walk", WALL-E was darker and more cynical than any major Disney feature film he could recall. He compared the humans to the patrons of Disney's Parks and Resorts, adding, "I'm also not sure I've ever seen a major corporation spend so much money to issue an insult to its customers." Maura Judkis of U.S. News & World Report questioned whether this depiction of "frighteningly obese humans" would resonate with children and make them prefer to "play outside rather than in front of the computer, to avoid a similar fate". The interpretation led to criticism of the film by conservative commentators such as Glenn Beck, and contributors to National Review Online including Shannen W. Coffin and Jonah Goldberg (although he admitted it was a "fascinating" and occasionally "brilliant" production).
A few notable critics have argued that the film is vastly overrated, claiming it failed to "live up to such blinding, high-wattage enthusiasm", and that there were "chasms of boredom watching it", in particular "the second and third acts spiraled into the expected". Other labels included "preachy" and "too long". Child reviews sent into CBBC were mixed, some citing boredom and an inadequate storyline.
Patrick J. Ford of The American Conservative said WALL-E's conservative critics missed lessons in the film that he felt appealed to traditional conservatism. He argued that the mass consumerism in the film was not shown to be a product of big business, but of too close a tie between big business and big government: "The government unilaterally provided its citizens with everything they needed, and this lack of variety led to Earth's downfall." Responding to Coffin's claim that the film points out the evils of mankind, Ford argued the only evils depicted were those that resulted from losing touch with our own humanity and that fundamental conservative representations such as the farm, the family unit, and wholesome entertainment were in the end held aloft by the human characters. He concluded, "By steering conservative families away from WALL-E, these commentators are doing their readers a great disservice."
Director Terry Gilliam praised the film as "A stunning bit of work. The scenes on what was left of planet Earth are just so beautiful: one of the great silent movies. And the most stunning artwork! It says more about ecology and society than any live action film—all the people on their loungers floating around, brilliant stuff. Their social comment was so smart and right on the button."
Archaeologists have commented on the themes of human evolution that the film explores. Ben Marwick has written how the character of WALL-E resembles an archaeologist with his methodical collection and classification of quotidian human artefacts. He is shown facing a typological dilemma of classifying a spork as either a fork or spoon, and his nostalgic interest in the human past further demonstrated by his attachment to repeated viewings of the 1969 film Hello, Dolly!. Marwick notes that the film features major human evolutionary transitions such as obligate bipedalism (captain of the spaceship struggles with the autopilot to gain control of the vessel) and the invention of agriculture, as part of watershed moments in the story of the film. According to Marwick, one prominent message of the film "appears to be that the envelopment by technology that the humans in Wall-E experience paradoxically results in physical and cultural devolution." Scholars such as Ian Tattersall and Steve Jones have similarly discussed scenarios where elements of modern technology (such as medicine) may have caused human evolution to slow or stop.
WALL-E won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing at the 81st Academy Awards, which it lost to Slumdog Millionaire (Original Score, Original Song, Sound Mixing), The Dark Knight (Sound Editing), and Milk (Original Screenplay). Walt Disney Pictures also pushed for an Academy Award for Best Picture nomination, but it was not nominated, provoking controversy as to whether the Academy deliberately restricted WALL-E to the Best Animated Feature category. Peter Travers commented that "If there was ever a time where an animated feature deserved to be nominated for best picture it's Wall-E." Only three animated films, 1991's Beauty and the Beast and Pixar's next two films, 2009's Up and 2010's Toy Story 3, have ever been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. A reflective Stanton stated he was not disappointed the film was restricted to the Best Animated Film nomination because he was overwhelmed by the film's positive reception, and eventually "The line [between live-action and animation] is just getting so blurry that I think with each proceeding year, it's going to be tougher and tougher to say what's an animated movie and what's not an animated movie."
WALL-E made a healthy appearance at the various 2008 end-of-the-year awards circles, particularly in the Best Picture category, where animated films are often overlooked. It has won the award, or the equivalent of it, from the Boston Society of Film Critics (tied with Slumdog Millionaire), the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Central Ohio Film Critics awards, the Online Film Critics Society, and most notably the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, where it became the first animated feature to win the prestigious award. It was named as one of 2008's ten best films by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
It won Best Animated Feature Film at the 66th Golden Globe Awards, 81st Academy Awards, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards 2008. It was nominated for several awards at the 2009 Annie Awards, including Best Feature Film, Animated Effects, Character Animation, Direction, Production design, Storyboarding and Voice acting (for Ben Burtt); but was beaten out by Kung Fu Panda in every category. It won Best Animated Feature at the 62nd British Academy Film Awards and was also nominated there for Best Music and Sound. Thomas Newman and Peter Gabriel won two Grammy Awards for "Down to Earth" and "Define Dancing". It won all three awards it was nominated for by the Visual Effects Society: Best Animation, Best Character Animation (for WALL-E and EVE in the truck) and Best Effects in the Animated Motion Picture categories. It became the first animated film to win Best Editing for a Comedy or Musical from the American Cinema Editors. In 2009, Stanton, Reardon, and Docter won the Nebula Award, beating The Dark Knight and the Stargate Atlantis episode "The Shrine". It won Best Animated Film and was nominated for Best Director at the Saturn Awards.
At the British National Movie Awards, which is voted for by the public, it won Best Family Film. It was also voted Best Feature Film at the British Academy Children's Awards. WALL-E was listed at #63 on Empire's online poll of the 100 greatest movie characters, conducted in 2008. In early 2010, TIME ranked WALL-E #1 in "Best Movies of the Decade". In Sight & Sound magazine's 2012 poll of the greatest films of all time, WALL-E is the second highest ranking animated film behind My Neighbor Totoro (1988), while tying with the film Spirited Away (2001) at 202nd overall. In a 2016 BBC poll of international critics, it was voted the 29th greatest film since 2000.
It was nominated for the 2009 Kids' Choice Awards, but lost to Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
In 2012, Mike McMaster, an American robotics hobbyist, began working on his own model of Wall-E. The final product was built with more moving parts than the Wall-E which roams around Disneyland. McMaster's four-foot robot made an appearance at the Walt Disney Family Museum and was featured during the opening week of Tested.com a project headed up by Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of MythBusters. Since Wall-E's creation, Mike and the popular robot have made dozens of appearances at various events.
In 2012, Mike Senna completed his Wall-E build. He also created an Eve. They were present at a photo op at Disney's D23 Expo 2015.