Only the geniuses at Pixar Animation Studios could create an adorably clunky, inarticulate robot janitor capable of eliciting warm fuzzies and merry giggles in equal measure. "Wall-E,” the latest film from Oscar-winning "Finding Nemo” director Andrew Stanton, may be animated, but it's the best science-fiction movie of the past several years. The movie is set 700 years in the future, on a bleak but oddly evocative Earth so covered with trash that humans have been forced to leave. Centuries ago, the Buy n Large Corp. promised to clean up the planet while people took a pleasure cruise on the luxury space liner Axiom (voice of Sigourney Weaver). The corporation created the Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class, or Wall-E, robots for the task, but only one worked. While the humans continue their centuries-long space cruise, a single Wall-E (voice of Ben Burtt) continues to scoop up and compact the result of generations of rampant consumerism. When he isn't crushing trash, Wall-E spends his time sifting treasures out of the rubble, from a spork to a ring box (the diamond ring goes back in the junkyard) to a small plant. He also befriends a cockroach and dreams of finding love, like the characters in his favorite movie, "Hello Dolly!” His lonely existence is changed with the arrival of a sleek probe called Eve (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). The humans living on the luxury space liner Axiom have dispatched Eve to search for signs that Earth can be inhabited again. Wall-E is enchanted with Eve, but she initially ignores him. They eventually form a bond, though Eve still refuses to reveal the purpose of her classified mission. To her surprise, Eve discovers that Wall-E has found the one sign that people might be able to return to Earth. When Eve is recalled to the Axiom, Wall-E hitches a ride into space. On the Axiom, Wall-E's discovery, along with his inquisitive charm, changes the lives of everyone aboard the ship and the fate of Earth itself. "Wall-E,” Pixar's ninth studio film, constitutes a stunning achievement. About the first third of the movie has nearly no dialogue, just a series of electronic oohs, ahhs and beeps from Wall-E and Eve. But the filmmakers still manage to convey the characters' emotions and thoughts through their expressive faces and the tone of their sounds. Once the film launches into space and aboard the Axiom, "Wall-E” gains more dialogue and characters but doesn't lose its focus on the core story. As Wall-E searches for love, the humans, led by the captain (voice of Jeff Garlin), have to decide whether to leave behind their super-soft existence and try to reclaim their damaged home world. For the first time, Pixar incorporates live-action footage into one of its films, and the bold move pays big dividends. The lyrics to "It Only Takes a Moment,” along with the accompanying scene from "Hello Dolly!,” add poignant power to Wall-E's obvious desire for companionship. Fred Willard's live-action flashback sequences as the smarmy Buy n Large CEO Shelby Forthright fit seamlessly into the movie. Rated G and boasting one of the most charming underdog heroes to appear onscreen in a long while, "Wall-E” is wonderfully original and well-crafted entertainment for all ages. — Brandy McDonnell
G 1:43 4 stars Starring: Fred Willard and the voices of Ben Burtt, Jeff Garlin, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger and Kathy Najimy.