LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Disney-Pixar blasts off into uncharted territory with Friday's release of animated film "Wall-E," a space adventure mixing an unusual love story with somber messages about the future of Earth and humankind.
The film features dystopian landscapes, social commentary and a lack of conventional dialogue that are rare under the Walt Disney Co banner, but it sticks to Pixar's basic themes of love, loyalty and friendship.
Still, the sober tone and odd love-story between robots has prompted concerns that the "Wall-E" box office may not compensate for Disney's other big summer release, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," whose $259 million box office take has lagged forecasts so far.
"Investors have been wary of 'Wall-E's' box office potential given Pixar's risky bet on an offbeat main character, who rarely speaks during the film," Pali Capital analyst Rich Greenfield said in a note to clients this week.
A solid performance by "Wall-E" could boost Disney's results in upcoming quarters, in which the company faces tough comparisons with 2007 hits "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" ($961 million worldwide) and "Ratatouille" ($621 million) in theaters and DVD frames.
While Greenfield noted Wall Street concern, he added that "Wall-E" had been well-received in early screenings, and he pegged the film's ultimate global box office take at $500 million to $600 million. He also predicted it also would be a "solid contributor" to DVD and consumer products sales.
The movie will debut in more than 3,900 U.S. theaters on Friday and roll out around the world through December.
The character Wall-E, or Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class, is the last of a cadre of robots tasked with cleaning up piles of trash discarded by humans who abandoned the planet centuries before.
The human race set off on a luxury space cruise during a planned five-year clean-up that lasts much longer and results in unfortunate changes in the human physique and psyche.
In the meantime, Wall-E faithfully reports to work each day on Earth with his pet cockroach and a lunch box in which he stores the knick knacks he finds among mountains of trash.
The arrival of a sleek girl robot named Eve, sent to Earth by the orbiting humans to look for plant life, sends Wall-E on an adventure that changes his own and humanity's destiny.
Director Andrew Stanton, who won an Academy Award for Pixar's most lucrative film, "Finding Nemo," said he wanted to show a future in which people had lost track of what matters in life.
"I thought, 'Well that's the question that Wall-E is trying to figure out: What is the point of living?"' Stanton said. "It's to love one another. It's to further a relationship."
In choreographing the non-verbal courtship of Wall-E and Eve, Stanton and his animators looked to "the hard process of a boy going over to ask a girl to dance."
"It's all just metaphor for what it's like for a boy to court a girl," Stanton said. "It's all in there."
The film's references to current hot-button issues -- the environment, obesity and corporate greed -- were a coincidence, Stanton said, because he conceived the premise in 1994 with the idea of reviving the science-fiction films he loved as a boy.
"I just was using elements of the world I knew," he said. "I wasn't trying to put anybody to task. I knew that, 'Wow this is starting to make some really uncomfortable parallels' but ... as long as I don't have an agenda I'm not going to worry about it."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Braden Reddall