Oh, Wall-E. Oh, Wall-E. Pixar’s latest release is a return to the level of environmentally conscious awesome I haven’t seen in animated films since Ferngully or the Pirates of Dark Water.* Basically, the film describes a world where trash has overwhelmed the Earth. Humanity (or at least those who can afford it) flee a planet where the corporation Buy-n-Large has become synomous with the government. BnL leaves a series of little trash compacting bots behind, so that the trash-problem will be satisfactorily addressed by the time humanity returns to the planet. Wall-E has been compacting trash for 700 years. There are still mountains left, and he’s now the last of his kind. Though alone, he does have a routine. He’s got a friendly cockroach for company, a great musical on VHS, and a vast collection of thingamabobs reminiscent of Ariel’s cave. This routine is delightfully disrupted when EVE comes down from a mysterious space ship.* Wall-E immediately takes a liking to his strange visitor, and the two gradually become friends.
This friendship is one of my favorite moments in the movie. It is so rare that love stories for kids are also stories about friendship. I mean, seriously, do you think Aladdin and Jasmine would have tea together if they weren’t “in love?” What do Ariel and Eric have in common? Or Snow White and Prince Charming?
Anyways, Wall-E and EVE don’t fall in love right away — they become friends first, which is so totally fantastic. Once they do fall in love, you get the sense that the sincere affection underneath their love makes it way more sincere than star-crossed lovers. What’s even more awesome is that this film incorporates all the elements of a fairy tale with none of the triteness. Wall-E ends up feeling like an awesome postmodern take on Sleeping Beauty, where the two robots exchange the roles of rescued and rescuer, and where falling into a charmed sleep is very much about the loss of the self. Both EVE and Wall-E both fall into this mysterious sleep — EVE, when her primary directive forcibly takes her over, and she’s reduced into a pawn of her programming, and Wall-E, when BnL’s planned obsolescence places his very memory in danger of erasure.
I also liked the film’s subtlety. There’s no real villain; instead, everyone’s trying to do what they think is right, or at the very least get by. BnL might have doomed the planet, but you feel like they’re sincere in their panicked attempts to save the world. Also, even though humanity’s now evolved into morbidly obese halo addicts, neither their weight nor their consumerism are used to condemn these far-flung remnants of Earth. Instead, the film judges them for their sheer inability to pay attention to the world around them — they’re divorced from one another through distraction, and not vice. Plus, this alienation is not treated as inevitable; both humans and machines are capable of being engaged in the future of their shared world.
*I do think it’s ironic that Pixar is releasing such an environmentally conscious film that then rationalizes a series of toys and disposable garbage that petpetuate the problem the film describes. BAD DISNEY!
*Purtek talks more about robots and gender here!