After directing Finding Nemo, Stanton felt Pixar had created believable simulations of underwater physics and was willing to direct a film set in space. Most of the characters do not have actual human voices, but instead communicate with body language and robotic sounds, designed by Ben Burtt, that resemble voices. In addition, it is the first animated feature by Pixar to have segments featuring live action characters.
Walt Disney Pictures released it in the United States and Canada on June 27, 2008. The film grossed $23.1 million on its opening day, and $63 million during its opening weekend in 3,992 theaters, ranking #1 at the box office. This ranks the third highest-grossing opening weekend for a Pixar film as of July 2008. Following Pixar tradition, WALL-E was paired with a short film (Presto) for its theatrical release. It has achieved highly positive reviews with an approval rating of 96% on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
One day, WALL-E finds a new plant growth in the trash, and repots it in an old shoe for safekeeping. Later, a spaceship lands on Earth and deploys a feminine, state of the art "EVE" probe which begins to scan the soil as part of her directive to find plant life on Earth. While WALL-E falls in love with the new robot on first sight, EVE could hardly think the same of him, though she eventually warms up to WALL-E and takes to his unique personality. When WALL-E shows her the plant he found, EVE's automatic programming initiates, causing her to seize the plant and store it inside her, activate a homing beacon for her ship, and shut down. WALL-E is unable to awaken EVE, but goes to great lengths to protect her from the elements, as well as take her motionless body out on a date. EVE's spaceship later returns to collect her; WALL-E, unwilling to leave EVE, hitches onto the ship's hull to follow EVE to her destination, the Axiom, the flagship of the human starliners.
WALL-E discovers that EVE is part of the Axioms programming to determine if the Earth is capable of supporting life; when the plant sample EVE carries is positively identified in the ship's holo-detector, the ship will return to Earth with its hyperjump engines, allowing humans to recolonize the planet. However, the ship's autopilot, AUTO, had received a final directive from Forthright those hundreds of years ago asserting that life on Earth would forever be unsustainable, ordering them to never have the ships return to Earth. The Axioms captain, Captain McCrea, says the plant is living proof that Forthright was wrong, and believes humanity must return to Earth to amend their mistakes. As a result, AUTO takes measures to stop the plant from being delivered to the holo-detector by attempting to destroy it. Auto has one of the other robots under his control secretly steal the plant from EVE and attempt to launch it in a self-destructing escape pod, but WALL-E and EVE are able to recover it safely.
When WALL-E and EVE try to return the plant to McCrea, Auto rebels and drops the two down a garbage chute into the Axioms waste chambers. WALL-E is significantly damaged, and the only parts that can save him are those he kept on Earth. EVE, having realized her true feelings for WALL-E after observing through her own security recordings how he protected her while she was dormant, determines that the only way to return to Earth in time is to get the plant into the holo-detector and initiate the hyperjump. With the help of the humans and other robots, the two attempt to get the plant into the holo-detector, but are continually thwarted by AUTO's control of the ship and security systems. McCrea duels with AUTO manages to stand up on his own and deactivate AUTO, allowing the plant to be placed in the holo-detector and sending the Axiom back to Earth, though WALL-E is damaged to an even greater extent in the process.
As soon as the Axiom lands on Earth, EVE attempts to repair the gravely damaged WALL-E. Though she is able to restore his body, his memories and personality seem to have been erased, his waste-disposal programming taking over. EVE is heartbroken and mournfully gives WALL-E a farewell "kiss", resulting in an electrical spark that restores WALL-E's memory. The two robots embrace happily as the humans from the Axiom take their first steps on Earth, carefully replanting the seedling that brought them back, and begin working alongside the robots to restore their home.
Ben Burtt is the sound engineer for WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class), the titular character of the film, as well as other robot characters. WALL-E is a mobile trash compactor, the last operational unit in a massive line created by the Buy n Large Corporation to gather and compact the waste created by the humans that used their products. WALL-E is solar-powered and constantly replaces his worn parts with those scavenged from non-functional WALL-E units. He can retract his limbs and head into his body and form a cube when he senses danger (although he is armed with a laser beam between his eyes, he uses this chiefly as a cutting tool with which to manipulate waste). He may also fold into a cube when he is resting. WALL-E's long and lonely existence has granted him sentience and emotion. His loneliness is soon requited via EVE, a probe that comes to Earth searching for signs of plant life.
Burtt also produced the voice for M-O (Microbe Obliterator), one of the maintenance robots who cleans the filth in the ship and inspects incoming shipments for foreign contaminants. M-O is annoyed by the amount of filth on WALL-E, and learns to act on his own accord by following WALL-E in an attempt to clean him. M-O's warning message and catchphrase, "foreign contaminant", were created using PlainTalk, while the chime produced by WALL-E to signify his recharge is identical to the chime produced by a Macintosh computer upon activation, signifying the successful completion of the power-on self-test (POST).
Elissa Knight as EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a sleek, ergonomically advanced robotic probe whose main function is to locate plant life in order to determine whether the Earth is capable of supporting human life. She is equipped with scanners and a retractable plasma cannon in her right arm, the latter of which she is quick to use at the slightest provocation. Although initially EVE appears to be an unfeeling, stoic robot concerned with nothing more than what she is programmed to do, over the course of the film she begins to show signs of all kinds of emotions, including cheer, frustration, and sorrow, and eventually comes to worry more for WALL-E than for her purpose. Her design was inspired by the sleek white versions of Apple, Inc. products such as the iPod .
Jeff Garlin as the Captain, the sole leader and commander of the Axiom, who becomes enraptured by the images of Earth as it was before the rise of Buy n Large and therefore assumes dynamism and a leader's position among the humans who recolonize Earth. His holographic commemoration in his room reveals his name to be "B. McCrea" (his given name is unknown).
Fred Willard as Shelby Forthright, CEO of the Buy n Large Corporation. In the film, a global cleanup project is initiated by Shelby Forthright as humanity is evacuated into space; the project goes awry when he finds he had underestimated just how toxic the Earth has become, persuading him to forsake hope. Willard is the only cast member in this film who plays a live-action character with a speaking role, and the first to do so in any Pixar film.
John Ratzenberger as John, a human who is made aware of his surroundings by WALL-E. He becomes the companion of Mary.
Kathy Najimy as Mary, another human made aware of her surroundings by WALL-E. She becomes the companion of John.
MacInTalk sounds were used for Auto, the Axioms internal autopilot, built into the ship's steering wheel. Burtt originally wanted to use maritime military sounds for the character. Auto has a single, HAL-like eye. He serves as the antagonist of the film. His responsibilities include following Directive A113, by which to ensure that the ship never returns to Earth. Upon discovering a small plant retrieved by EVE, Auto seeks to dispose of it in order to follow the A113 protocol, thus maintaining the status quo.
After directing Finding Nemo, Stanton felt they "had really achieved the physics of believing you were really under water, so I said 'Hey, let’s do that with air'. Let’s fix our lenses, let’s get the depth of field looking exactly how anamorphic lenses work and do all these tricks that make us have the same kind of dimensionality that we got on Nemo with an object out in the air and on the ground'". Producer Jim Morris added that the film was animated so that it would feel "as if there really was a cameraman". Dennis Muren was hired to advise Pixar on replicating science fiction films from the 1960s and 1970s, including elements such as 70 mm frames, barrel distortion and lens flare. Scale models were made for Muren, which he used to teach Pixar.
The design of the robots came about by Stanton telling his designers, "See it as an appliance first, and then read character into it". In creating the title character, the animators were inspired by a pair of binoculars and by Luxo Jr., the lamp featured in the Pixar logo. Stanton was playing with a pair of binoculars, which looked happy or sad depending on whether they were upside down or not. Stanton felt "you don't need a mouth, you don't need a nose, you get a whole personality just from [the eyes]", which meant the audience would feel he is "not just a human in a robot shell". WALL-E's body came from the logic of having his head, arms, and legs pull into his body like a turtle and tank treads that would allow him to overcome any terrain. The director also acknowledged he may have been subconsciously influenced by Johnny 5 from the film Short Circuit, which he once saw.
Stanton pitched the story to Ben Burtt who signed on to do the sound design. There is little traditional dialogue in the film; Stanton joked, "I’m basically making R2-D2: The Movie", in reference to Burtt's work on Star Wars. To create dialogue, Burtt took various mechanical sounds, and combined them to resemble speech. When WALL-E recharges his battery by means of solar energy, he makes the same startup chime as does a Macintosh computer . Executive producer John Lasseter said of the film's lack of dialogue that "the art of animation is about what the character does, not what it says. It all depends on how you tell the story, whether it has a lot of dialogue or not.
As Finding Nemo was dedicated to the memory of Glenn McQueen and Cars was dedicated to the memory of Joe Ranft, WALL-E was dedicated to Justin Wright (1981–2008), a Pixar animator who had worked on Ratatouille and died of a heart attack before the movie's release. In the Pixar tradition, a list of "Production Babies" was included in the closing credits. As of July 2008, WALL-E holds the record for the highest production budget of any Pixar film at $180 million.
The film received its premiere at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on June 23, 2008. WALL-E opened in wide release in the United States and Canada on June 27, 2008 and grossed $23.1 million in its opening day. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $63 million in 3,992 theaters, ranking #1 at the box office. The opening weekend would give the film the third-best opening weekend for a Pixar film.
Continuing a Pixar tradition, WALL-E was paired with a short film for its theatrical release. The attached film was Presto. This is the first Disney-Pixar film to use the new Walt Disney Pictures logo (used in 2006 since Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest), since the previous eight films (Toy Story-Ratatouille) used the Pixar version of the logo.
Todd McCarthy of Variety called the film "Pixar's ninth consecutive wonder", saying it was imaginative yet straightforward. Citing WALL-E's "adroit" borrowing from other works, McCarthy said it pushed the boundaries of animation in managing to balance 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. McCarthy also had praise for Thomas Newman's musical score and the visuals, for which he cited cinematographer Roger Deakins' input as a visual consultant as a possible factor.
Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter declared that WALL-E surpassed the achievements of Pixar's previous eight features, saying that the film had the "heart, soul, spirit and romance" of the best silent films. He said that the filmmakers managed to tell a terrific story through visual and aural ideas which enabled the robotic characters to convey "a rainbow of emotions". He said the visuals were arguably Pixar's best and praised the creation of a ruined Earth city and a human spaceship as "fantastically imaginative". 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". Honeycutt concluded by saying that despite the film's acknowledged nods to other works (2001: A Space Odyssey, and moments where robots "run riot" bringing to mind Monsters, Inc.), WALL-E could be Pixar's most original work to date.
Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun-Times said WALL-E succeeded in three areas: as "an enthralling animated film, a visual wonderment, and a decent science-fiction story". Ebert said the scarcity of dialogue would allow it to "cross language barriers" in a manner appropriate to the global theme, and he had praise for the visual effects, saying the color palette was "bright and cheerful... and a little bit realistic". He cited early Disney animations that successfully translated human expressions onto non-human characters as an influence on the title character. He said the film managed to generate a "curious" regard for the WALL-E, comparing his design ("rusty and hard-working and plucky") favorably to more obvious attempts at creating "lovable" lead characters. Ebert called the storytelling "enchanting" and said the film could be enjoyed by adults and children alike. He said WALL-E was concerned with ideas rather than spectacle, saying it may require "a little thought" on the part of the audience, and that this could be particularly stimulating to younger viewers.
Patrick J. Ford of The American Conservative said WALL-E's conservative critics were missing lessons in the film that he felt were appealing 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", he 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".
Andrew Stanton commented on the reaction to the film by denying any specific agenda beyond telling the story about 'the last robot on Earth'. He said that people were making connections that he "never saw coming", and that the circumstances of humanity's abandoning the Earth arose merely as a way of telling the story, "reverse-engineered" from the initial concept of using refuse as both a visual shorthand that would be easy for children to understand, and as a way of depicting the title character as holding a low-status, menial job.
Kyle Smith, author and columnist for the New York Post, wrote that in depicting humans of the future 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 in the film to the patrons of Disney World, 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, making them more likely to "play outside rather than in front of the computer, to avoid a similar fate". Stanton denied that his intention was to pass comment on obesity, saying the purpose was instead to portray human overdependency.
The special editions of WALL-E will have a second disc with special features, and a third disc that includes a bonus digital copy of the film. Special features include several deleted scenes, an audio commentary with director Andrew Stanton, Presto animated theatrical short film, and an animation sound design featurette.
The DVD also includes the documentary, The Pixar Story.