Thursday, July 3, 2008
Wall-E (2008) has a lot going for it. The critics love it, it is a Pixar picture...French for prohibitive Oscar favorite which, in animation, I actually occasionally pay attention to...and it follows in a long tradition of enjoyable Pixar movies.
The marketing was a bit strange...how do you get people to see a movie about a lone robot picking up garbage? But I heard good things about it from Ironman Al and after some idiot with a long history of criminal convictions robbed a bank, got chased by the police and closed about every freeway...well, a movie sounded pretty good.
It starts out pretty slowly. Wall-E (Ben Burtt) is a robot left behind on earth to clean up massive piles of garbage. His only companion is a cockroach...as in, the only thing to survive the destruction of earth will be a cockroach. This leads to a variety of cockroach survival jokes which are one of the highlights of the movie. The other centerpiece is his love of Hello Dolly (1969) and a dancing set-piece from that movie.
After we are introduced to the character of Wall-E a ship arrives. On the ship are explorer robots, or at least one, Eve (Elissa Knight). Eve will come to be the love of his life. He shows her his work and his collection of bits of American pop culture. In his search to please her he shows her something he discovered the prior day...a living plant. This proves to be what Eve is looking for and she instantly shuts down and sends out signals striving to bring back the mother ship.
While she is immobile he takes her around the planet, protects her from the rain and even decorates her with Christmas lights. At this point it is obvious that, for the kids, the movie is about a love story between sentient robots and indeed their relationship drives the plot from point to point.
I would even argue there are some touching moments. The loneliness experienced in turn by Wall-E, the cockroach, and finally Eve are very well done and might tug at the heart strings a little bit. However, that story line is just a smoke screen for the real point of the movie. That point is at least 2-fold even aside from looks at loneliness and relationships.
Remember, each robot in this movie has a designated function. The names Wall-E and Eve mean Waste Allocation Load Lifter and Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator. That Waste load lifting is not just his name, it is his job and very reason for existing.
That brings us to the point of this movie. It is a rather sharp critique of American culture and resources. As you can see there are immense piles of garbage. Look closely on the right at the pile of garbage. There are thousands, perhaps millions of those piles formed by the Wall-E units that have all broken down except our hero. There is even a ring of garbage several pieces thick surrounding the planet.
Everything is owned by Buy & Large, a conglomerate that apparently made its fortune by up sizing everything...larger drinks, larger fries, larger desserts, and so forth. The larger items make more garbage and make people larger. That leads to the second portion of the social commentary which has to do with human contact but we will come back to that after further looking at the anti-garbage stance.
The movie takes a rather hypocritical stand in asserting the earth is on the verge of extinction due to excessive production of products and garbage. Yet the flick itself has a huge quantity of merchandise. There is an obvious disconnect between the message of the movie and the goals of the people making money off the movie.
Now, doubtless there are some large quantities of garbage and we would do well to reduce those levels. With that said, it has become an issue more intent on making political gains than on a realistic appraisal of the situation. Time and again we see that nature overcomes what people throw at it despite the sky is falling prognostications of the "experts". Yet we are taught that people are evil and irreparably damaging the earth. I call shenanigans.
The second part of the more hidden message has to do with how increasing reliance on electronic aids is creating a disconnect where people more seldom interact with each other and are growing increasingly larger themselves. As if people won't get the joke that everyone is so fat they can't even walk anymore we get a pan showing how captains of the ship went from sleek and fit to the current captain, a guy so fat that getting out of his bed requires robot assistance. In case anyone is looking for clues that the movie means to show that oversize portions and more sedentary time is destructive to society, the ship is named Axiom. Think about that word for 30 seconds and the meaning becomes clear.
The best part of the movie is actually not in Wall-E...it is in Presto, the now traditional short in front of the movie in which a hungry rabbit causes a magician great problems which inadvertently turn it into the greatest performance of his life. The audience I was a part of laughed from beginning to end at the short. Overall a very entertaining evening.