Apparently certain people have been up in arms over Pixar's new movie, WALL-E, since last November. All I knew about it before seeing it was that it looked adorable. So last Friday I saw it with a couple of friends... and I loved it. As the story goes, mankind has abandoned Earth because it was too polluted and too covered in trash to be inhabitable. The enormous corporation "Buy N Large," who appears to control all of Earth's commerce, builds a giant spaceship to take people away for a "five year cruise" until robots left behind can clean up and allow people to move back home. Seven hundred years later, it appears that only one of the robots, WALL-E, is still in working order. Each day he goes out and compacts little piles of trash, building skyscrapers with the blocks he spits out. The only life form is a cockroach who fills the role of Wall-E's dog. Over the years, Wall-E has developed a personality, collecting interesting knick-knacks and cherishing an old VHS tape of Hello, Dolly! that shows how he yearns for a connection with someone.
All of that is set up in the first half hour of the movie. When flashy, futuristic robots come to Earth in search of life forms, WALL-E falls in love with one and ends up in outer space after climbing onto the rocket ship that will take them back to the mother ship. He had given EVE a plant he found growing, and as we find out, that is not only the first sign of life to return from Earth with the rest of the search mission, but also the first to return in 700 years.
Seeing the introduction to the movie, a layer of thick smog blanketing abandoned buildings and skyscrapers of compacted trash, sent waves of sickness through my mind and stomach. At the rate we're going, that very well could be a look into our future. The smog and the trash— it's already a problem in many parts of the world. My uncle, who travels to China on business fairly regularly, emailed the family a picture of the midday sun— it looks like a dim lightbulb through the haze [see below].
Not only that, but the way Wal-Mart and other huge corporations are pushing other companies out of business, a world where one corporation owns everything isn't hard to imagine. Phillip Morris, the much-maligned cigarette company, owns Kraft Foods, for god's sake!
So, getting back to the part about how I think the people offended by Wall-E are being a little ridiculous... First of all, it's an animated movie. A children's movie. There are very few, if any, movies aimed at children that don't come complete with a life lesson and a moral at the end. By design, a children's movie teaches some important lesson or idea. There are obstacles to overcome that the hero of the story must endure in order to better him- or herself. That's totally standard for Disney movies.
As Chris Suellentrop writes in the New York Times article Another Brick in the ‘WALL-E’, "Two denizens of National Review Greg Pollowitz and Shannen Coffin think Pixar’s latest is a bit of 'leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind,' as Coffin puts it. 'It was like a 90-minute lecture on the dangers of over consumption, big corporations, and the destruction of the environment,' Pollowitz writes at Planet Gore, National Review’s global-warming blog."
No, actually, it was not like a lecture on the dangers of over-consumption, big corporations, and the destruction of the environment. That was the whole point of the movie. Critics are accusing Pixar of being Malthusian, a theory named after Thomas Malthus which predicted that as human population increased, tragedy would win out as Nature placed its checks and balances on it in terms of available resources. Granted, what Malthus did not understand in his time was that, with technology, we would have the ability to geometrically increase our output of crops to match the geometrically-increasing human population. However, the idea supporting his logic makes perfect sense.
Not everyone, thankfully, blindly attacked the movie for asking people to reevaluate their lifestyles.
“'The real tragedy of these callous conservative critics (say that three times fast) is that they are missing the real lessons of the movie, ones I found immediately attractive to a traditional conservative,' Patrick J. Ford, of The American Conservative, writes. 'In the film, it becomes clear that mass consumerism is not just the product of big business, but of big business wedded with big government. In fact, the two are indistinguishable in WALL-E’s future. The government unilaterally provided its citizens with everything they needed, and this lack of variety led to Earth’s downfall. . . . Another lesson missed is portrayed perfectly in Coffin’s claim that WALL-E points out the “evils of mankind.” The only evils of mankind portrayed are those that come about from losing touch with our own humanity. Staples of small-town conservative life such as the small farm, the “atomic family,” and old-fashioned and wholesome entertainment like “Hello, Dolly” are looked upon by the suddenly awakened humans as beautiful and desirable. By steering conservative families away from WALL-E, these commentators are doing their readers a great disservice.'"
And really, what is SO awful about teaching children not to consume junk food in large amounts and stay constantly plugged in to various technologies? One of the most poignant scenes in the film takes place when one of the fat blob humans gets knocked off her hoverchair. Suddenly, she looks out a window and for the first time sees an entire universe of stars and galaxies.
We complain that obesity is on the rise and "things aren't what they used to be," and yet in the face of something as beautifully executed as WALL-E, people eschew the movie on the basis of "right" or "left". This isn't a movie about politics, or even corporations, really. It's a movie about what it means to be a human, what it means to exist and to be alive. If we forget why it's important to look at the stars, we just might end up needing to look for a new home someday.