Pixar’s WALL-E led a strong slate at the U.S. box office that resulted in the biggest-grossing weekend of the year.

Pixar film character WALL-E 

Disney/Pixar’s latest animated production, WALL-E, opened very strong at the U.S. box office this past weekend, grossing an estimated $62.5 million in domestic ticket sales. That’s about $10 million more than industry pundits had expected and is not far short of the company record of $70.5 million, set in 2004 by The Incredibles.

Coming in second on the weekend was the opening of Wanted, the new Universal Pictures actioner starring Angelina Jolie. It brought in an impressive $51.1 million, which makes it the third highest opening weekend for an R-rated action film, behind only The Matrix Reloaded and 300.

It will be interesting to see whether Wall-E will be able to sustain its strong performance. Unlike The Incredibles and other popular animated or computer-generated films, Wall-E is not fully successful in humanizing its central characters, two robots in a world seven centuries from now. The filmmakers clearly tried mightily to show the two machines as having reactions resembling human emotions, but the characters never really become personalties to the viewer. That would seem to be a very bad weakness in a film geared toward children. (It has never hurt Steven Seagal’s movies, by contrast.)

On the plus side, however, WALL-E does stress the optimism and can-do attitude typical of recent Disney and Pixar animated pictures, and has numerous amusing moments, an intersting story line, and a strong affirmation of the value of loyalty, compassion, and personal responsibility. The messages it will send children are solid, which parents will appreciate.

One particularly interesting aspect of WALL-E is the filmmakers’ choice of what kind of future to depict.

Although one might have expected them to present a largely optimistic view, so as not to scare the kiddies unduly, the filmmakers follow the typical approach of adult-oriented movie sci-fi in recent years and present a serious dystopia. Humans have abandoned Earth, as the accumulation of our race’s garbage has made the world uninhabitable—plants will no longer grow on the planet. Everyone has migrated to an artificial planet floating out in space somewhere.

Thus the film presents a charmingly obsolete, early 1970s attitude of environmental gloom and doom, reflecting the once-prevalent but entirely false notion of a coming environmental catastrophe.

This central aspect of the film’s premise harks back a full three decades to a time when few people other than serious economists understood that the West was rapidly leaving behind its period of greatest human impact on the environment. Since the 1960s, the environment in the developed world has become cleaner and cleaner, thanks in great part to technological advances that have occurred in spite of government mandates, not because of them.

What is directly on target, by contrast, and brilliantly satirical, is the film’s amusing depiction of human life in the future. Everyone is enormously fat, and they all ride around in hover-chairs and spend all their waking hours eating, watching video screens, conforming to instantly changing fashions, and shopping for junk they don’t need. Great stuff. Parents and children alike will recognize that world, and will enjoy the satire.

Perhaps that will be enough to keep WALL-E performing well at the box office.