Wednesday, August 06, 2008

We Liked Wall-E

We recently took our younger kids to see the Disney-Pixar movie Wall-E. I have been exposed to no actual reviews for this movie. I had heard by word of mouth that it had a somewhat environmentalist slant to it, but I had also heard that it was a fun movie.

First, let me say that I found the Pixar short Presto that is the opener for Wall-E to be immensely entertaining. If you are going to see Wall-E, don’t arrive late, because you won’t want to miss Presto. Second, let me say that you don’t want to read the rest of this if you don’t want to know some of the significant story elements before you see the movie.

Wall-E is an extremely endearing character. He is like the wooden boy Pinocchio that longs to be human. Still, Pixar imbues him with many of the noblest human characteristics from the start. (Wall-E might be just a robot, but he is definitely male.) We are not told how Wall-E became sentient while others of his kind did not.

The decayed city in which Wall-E lives is scattered with remnants of human life — remnants of the consumption culture. There’s garbage everywhere. The omnipresent electronic ads still function. Everything had apparently been run by a huge conglomerate known as Buy-N-Large (BNL). Wall-E regularly passes a structure that looks like a mega-super-size Sam’s Club or IKEA store.

Wall-E is an ugly little robot that is alone on earth except for his pet cockroach. Like most men, he pines for a counterpart. A female robot named Eve is sent to Wall-E’s area on a mission to search for plant life. In an analogy that many men will find apt, she is extraordinarily beautiful but she is also extremely dangerous. She has her own focus and seems devoid of the emotions Wall-E experiences, so she gives him the cold shoulder. So, this movie is a love story, and it celebrates all the good parts of love, including self sacrifice.

Despite the danger, Wall-E persists in pursuing Eve. Just as they are making some relationship headway, Eve finds a plant, puts it inside her abdomen, and goes into stasis. Wall-E isn’t sure what is wrong with her, but he devotes himself to taking care of her. Even my younger kids grasped the symbolism involved. When a spaceship comes to take Eve away, Wall-E tags along.

The craft arrives at a massive spaceship that is inhabited by the descendants of earth’s former inhabitants, who had left 700 years earlier to escape cataclysmic pollution. All of the work on the ship is done by robots. The humans have all become lard-ridden couch potatoes that spend their whole days floating around on moving couches. They continuously travel by moving couch on highways in an environment that is constantly kept perfect. They are all so absorbed in their electronic social networks that they don’t know what is going on around them.

Life on the vessel is ‘perfect,’ but boring. The people serve no meaningful purpose other than to survive. Through a series of adventures, Wall-E and Eve change all of that. Along with the captain, they eventually challenge a controlling robot that means well but serves to stifle the human spirit. At one point, when the robot tells the captain that the prime goal is survival, the captain replies, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live!”

The movie ends with the ship returning to earth and the humans beginning to rework the environment. Wall-E and Eve become a not-so-subtle allusion to Adam and Eve. I don’t know if you could walk out of that movie without feeling great. It is very emotionally engaging and there is some great symbolism.

Like all movies, there are some quirks and problems. The movie suggests that the one big spaceship that departed from Wall-E’s city held all of earth’s former inhabitants. Wouldn’t there have been many cities like the one in which Wall-E lived? What happened to all of those people? The ship wasn’t big enough to hold six or seven billion people.

While robots did all of the work on the ship, I couldn’t help but wonder where all of the resources came from for them to produce all of the goods consumed on the ship. Where did the food come from? While the ship disgorged oodles of garbage, there was no suggestion about where the resources to produce those byproducts came from.

The only non-adult humans depicted on the spaceship were babies and toddlers. Where were all of the other juveniles? Did people go from being toddlers to adults in one swift jump? And who produced the kids? Were they test tube babies? People were apparently too busy with their Facebook pages to form familial bonds.

The film is a commentary on our hyper-connected, sedentary, consumption culture. It also lionizes the subsistence lifestyle. The end of the film relives a utopian fantasy that has been common among all modern societies since the dawn of industrialization of getting back to nature and living off the land like our forefathers of yore. There is even a gospel choir singing at the end to emphasize the evangelizing that is occurring during that segment.

Another message is that running away from society’s problems merely produces more problems. But confidence is expressed that humans have the capacity in their nature to overcome societal problems.

Fear of being overcome by technology has long been depicted in our arts. While this film is no exception to that, it seeks to balance it by also having machines be heroes.

Although I find some bothersome issues with the film, I think all of these problems can be more than forgiven by the wonderful elements. I go to a movie to be entertained. I like to walk out feeling uplifted. Wall-E exceeded my expectations in that regard. My kids are already clamoring to get the movie when it comes to DVD. I’m sure that we will oblige.


Tim Malone said...

Great review - makes me want to go see it. Quite a different review from Bryce Haymond's review on Millennial Star that created such an uproar in the Bloggernacle. Thanks for sharing.

Cameron said...

I also really enjoyed the movie, though my young children did not. It was a little slow for them.

The Pixar folks are just amazing storytellers.