Wall-E: What a waste of space

Pixar’s latest box-office smash, a cute cartoon that depicts humans as greedy fatsos, robotically recycles the anti-consumerist message.

Daniel Ben-Ami

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Wall-E is a hard film to define. It is a love story in which the most human characters are robots while human beings are shown as virtual automatons. It is a children’s cartoon which embodies a bleak environmentalist message. And Andrew Stanton, its director and writer, vehemently denies any political intent despite the film’s brazenly anti-consumerist outlook (1).

The film (see the trailer below) is centred on the relationship between a small recycling robot called Wall-E (short for Waste Allocation Lift Loader, Earth-Class) and a shiny white plastic robot called Eve (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). For the first 10 minutes or so of the film, Wall-E is on his own, except for a pet cockroach called Hal. The robot gradually develops a personality as he spends his days recycling mounds of rubbish in a giant dilapidated cityscape.

Things start to change when Eve turns up in an automated space ship. She gradually befriends Wall-E as they saunter around the garbage together in the latter-day Garden of Eden. Then, when Wall-E makes the mistake of showing Eve a small plant he had found, the female robot goes into a trance and heads back into space to her mother ship. Wall-E follows in pursuit of his newfound love.

Most of the rest of the film takes place on the Axiom, a giant space liner run by the Buy’N’Large corporation. It turns out that 700 years ago the ship left Earth after the planet was virtually destroyed by mass human consumption. It takes a while to realise that humans still live aboard the Axiom. They simply float around the ship in giant recliners with television screens in front of their eyes. Their bodies have become fat, their limbs just short stubs, as their every need is catered for by robots.

No doubt many children will enjoy the movie. Judging by its early box office success it looks set to become astoundingly popular. Nor is there any doubt about Disney Pixar’s considerable technical skill in movie-making.

Assessing the significance of the film’s adult themes is trickier. In a way Stanton’s insistence that his film is not political makes it more worrying. If he had made a heavy-handed film with a crude propaganda message it could be easily dismissed. But Stanton seems to have simply picked up on the prevailing spirit of the times and put it into an animated cinematic form. It seems normal today to portray human beings as grossly wasteful consumers with no initiative of their own. It is unexceptional to show that people are destroying the planet with their greed. And even a Disney film can now represent humanity as easy prey for a giant domineering corporation.

In that sense, Wall-E is a deeply sad movie. Hopefully when its young fans grow older they will be able to see the limitations of its deeply gloomy outlook.

Daniel Ben-Ami is a journalist and author based in London. Visit his website here.

The official Wall-E website is here.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Film

(1) Andrew Stanton interview, Wall-E, Movies Online

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