It’s incredibly rare that a movie will compel me to write about it immediately upon seeing it. It’s even more rare that that movie is a cartoon and it’s damn near impossible that said cartoon be primarily marketed to kids. However, Wall-E happens to be one of those select few.
Despite being the latest property to emerge from Pixar Studios (and specifically the Pixar/Disney Marriage that has created such filmic gems as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and my one of my all time favorites, The Incredibles), Wall-E doesn’t exactly fall in line with the relative kid friendliness of it’s predecessors. Sure, there’s cute cartoon fun by the bucketful and more than enough signature Pixar wit to satisfy your average thumb sucker, but I’d say the film stands out as a borderline prophetic piece of social commentary that is quite obviously directed towards the adults in the audience. For those not sure what I mean, I’ll break it down like this: the film, for about the first half hour or so, takes place on Earth nearly eight hundred years into the future. The planet is desolate and literally filled with garbage. Fictional mega-store “Buy N’ Large” (a not so subtle analogue to everyone’s favorite monster corporation Wal-Mart) had at some point in the past expanded to the point where it controlled the world’s banks, automotive distributors and eventually, governing bodies. When it became aparent to the conglomerate that the Earth was too full of waste to sustain life (human or otherwise), they launched humanity into space on intergalactic luxury liners and left an army of Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class (or W.A.L.L.-E.) robots on the surface to clean up the planet in their stead. The movie begins Seven hundred years later and there is only one Wall-E robot left operational. This robot appears to develop a personality and, at least in theory, emotions. One day a mysterious ship lands on Earth and deploys an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (or E.V.E.) robot to scan the planet for signs of plant life. Eventually Wall-E and EVE develop a friendship, however before it can develop, EVE’s programming kicks when Wall-E shows her a living plant he discovered and she immediately contains the plant, goes into stasis and begins homing the ship that dropped her off. Eventually the ship arrives and carries the two robots to one of the luxury liners that had left Earth, which appeared to be parked in some kind of ion cloud in space. This is the point when humans are introduced to the film. Due to the incredible automation contained on the ship, humanity had become incredibly lazy and morbidly obese, spending their lives in hover chairs while machines do, literally, everything for them including, as we later find out, piloting the ship. Once EVE arrives with the plant, it is revealed that the ship’s robot’s, lead by the ship’s autopilot itself, had been ordered by the BNL executives to remain in space indefinitely since the planet was deemed to never be inhabitable again. Eventually Wally and EVE save the day and humanity returns to Earth to re-colonize the planet and rebuild civilization (and break free from their technological dependence at the same time.)The actual film contains a lot more cute cartoon fun, but for that you’ll just have to catch it yourselves.
Now, I can’t decide if the film is more a stab at the overt commercialism displayed by modern day, specifically North American, society or humanity’s growing dependence on machinery to complete tasks that can be easily accomplished by people given minimal effort. I’ve come to the conclusion that neither message surpasses the other within the film, but both are tackled separately (with the anti-commercialism angle filling up the film’s first act and the anti-dependence message filling the second and third acts.) While the future is impossible to determine, based on the place that I see our society in now, a future like the one shown in the film not only seems plausible, but it seems damn well likely (at least in my completely biased opinion.) I feel one of the film’s greatest achievements is the fact that while it puts many ideas on the table, it stops just short of becoming preachy. The traditional “you should all be ashamed of yourselves” conclusion that one would normally expect to accompany a movie that tackles such subject matter is pre-empted by the traditional fantasy happy ending where everything returns to normal and the protagonists live happily ever after. While this ending is absolutely necessary since it is, after all, still ostensibly (at least according to its marketing and origins) a movie for kids, I feel the fact that the movie is literally incapable of becoming an angry sobfest results in one of best commentaries on the times we live in that I’ve seen in a very long time (possibly ever.) While the film stands on its own as a general warning (of sorts) of what may be coming for us as a species (and does so far better than anything Al Gore has ever produced), it also functions incredibly well as a light-hearted animated story about a robot who just wants to hold someone else’s hand.
I honestly cannot recommend this film enough (and I fully intend to laugh out loud when it inevitably ends up being sold at Wal-Mart and may break my Wal-Mart embargo in order to purchase it there in order to document the experience so that I can laugh at it later.)
(Oh, and for the record, I did notice that Wall-E’s start-up tune was Apple Macintosh start-up tune, but in all honesty that fact is largely irrelivant to the grand scheme of this review. Besides, it makes perfect sense to me that Steve Jobs will one day invent an army of janitor robots.)