I saw Wall-E again, and was wondering to myself why I didn’t hate it. (This actually triggered a long rant on the nature of multiple viewings, but it’s such a mess I can’t bring myself to publish it.)
Anyway, conceptually, this Pixar movie contains pretty much all the elements of the crappy enviro-dystopic children’s “entertainment” of my youth, which may have something to do with my current hobby of deconstructing post-apocalyptic scenarios.
I mean, look at it: Wall-E posits a future–just 100 years away, mind you–where we’ve consumed and disposed of so much that we’ve actually destroyed the planet, and covered it with so much trash that we have to keep it in the cities that we lived in. And there’s enough to make cities with itself.
People have no sense of the scale of this planet, it’s just too big for people to grasp. We throw trash on the ground and weep like a fake Indian, but the impact is personal and aesthetic. (Likewise, the planet cares not whether it’s warmer or colder.) It is not “global”.
At the same time, we have an alternate utopic dystopia, if that makes sense, on board the Axiom. All human needs are taken care of, to the extent that humans themselves are totally incompetent. Yet despite this, the market structure seems to be unchanged. In other words, in a world where robots do all the work, people are still “buying” stuff somehow, and there’s an implication of exploitation, even though there’s nothing to actually exploit.
Meanwhile, the ship itself jettisons massive amounts of garbage out of itself–but from where is all the raw material for this garbage coming? Given that energy seems to be no problem, why wouldn’t this solution have worked on earth?
We won’t even talk about the whole babies thing. None of the people seemed to actually have ever had any physical contact with each other, and there are no children on the ship, only adults and babies. This suggests that the babies are gestated in some mechanical fashion and raised by machines until adult. I’m pretty sure this would create psychopaths.
Did I mention that a group of humans who were so physically underdeveloped and so conditioned to a trouble-free life would have zero chance of fixing anything? I mean, seriously, they’d have no hip sockets! (I bet you didn’t know that we’re not born with hip sockets, we make them by crawling and walking!)
Actually, they’d also be insane. If you’ve never noticed this, as society removes more and more real survival problems from people’s lives, they get crazier and crazier. Did you ever hear of a neurotic barbarian? Neuroses are a luxury of civilization.
Nope, Wall-E makes no sense, structurally. On top of that, it’s a story about robots with feelings, and there are few premises I find more annoying.
So, why didn’t I hate it?
First, it’s Pixar. Which means that it was executed at the highest level of artistic quality. You don’t hear talk of Lasseter retiring Pixar into the Disney brand; I think it’s clear that “Pixar” is going to maintain the premium brand.
Second, it’s Pixar, which means that there is a whole ‘nother movie’s worth of interesting, entertaining and funny details.
Third, it’s a kid’s movie. Director Stanton (A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo) makes kiddie movies, and he does so very well, by simplifying and streamlining things. Wall-E reverses the trend of kiddie movies getting longer and longer, so we can forgive him not showing the electro-re-programming machines that turn angry, psychotic teens into passive consumers. (Compare this to Brad Bird of Ratatouille, The Incredibles and Iron Giant, whose work tends to have a hard edge.)
Fourth, it’s very gentle, steering strongly away from the misanthropy that usually characterizes such films. The theme isn’t “evil humans destroyed the earth” so much as “we got kind of carried away and let things go, but it’s up to us to fix it”. The former message is a pretty crappy trick to play on kids, the latter a reminder to look at the real world once in a while, and to take care of it.
Finally, and this became apparent on a second viewing, Wall-E is first and foremost a love story. Like a Charlie Chaplin movie, the social commentary frames the story without changing it from boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl.
The two robots are the most human characters in the movie. And again, I have to fall back on the “Well, it’s Pixar!” thing again. These are the guys that make you care about toys, bugs, rats, and a freakin’ lamp. There’s the triumph of animation that can bring life to everything–and indeed, we find all the robots have personalities, even the poor, doomed security robots, this movie’s “stormtroopers”.
It would be odd to tihnk of the robots as not real, living beings.
So, I guess, on the scale of things, while it’s a message movie, the message is way more abstract than, say, Toy Story 2, which basically told your kids they were soul-destroying monsters for giving away their toys.
And I love Toy Story 2, too.