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Fourteen years ago, Pixar pioneers Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Docter and the late Joe Ranft met for a now-famous lunch. Toy Story, the fledgling company's first movie, was nearing completion, and the thought suddenly hit them: We might get a chance to make another movie!

The ideas flowed—for A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo. Stanton had a seed of an idea—but no story—of mankind departing Earth and leaving one little robot behind, continuing to do his job faithfully, because somebody forgot to turn him off.

Now, 14 years later, that idea hits theaters as WALL•E, the latest masterpiece from the animated masterminds at Pixar. Stanton, 42, has had a hand in most of Pixar's pictures, but this is only his second film at the helm as director. His first, 2003's Finding Nemo, won an Oscar for Best Animated Picture.

While Nemo was about the bonds of love between a father and son, WALL•E is also a love story—between two inanimate objects. The title character is the aforementioned "little robot left behind," whose daily task consists of picking up trash, compacting it, and putting it in neat piles. But in the rubbish, he learns something of the humans who, 700 years ago, left him behind and now are cruising the galaxy in a space station, waiting for the Earth to become habitable again. WALL•E finds all sorts of gizmos that give him hints about how humans think and feel, but his most telling prize is a VHS tape of Hello, Dolly, which he watches incessantly—and from which he learns something of love and loneliness.

Then along comes a "female" robot named, appropriately, EVE, whose mission is to find plant life in an effort to determine if the Earth is habitable again. ...

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