Film Discussion

Throwback 10: WALL-E

Today we’re going to be looking at a movie about consumerism, love at first sight and robot cannibalism.

Before we get into things, I’d like to state that I think WALL-E is the most beautiful movie Pixar has ever produced. The level of detail in every scene and character is simply staggering, the backgrounds gorgeously detailed. Look at WALL-E, I mean REALLY look at him. He’s beaten up, rusted, the exposed metal weathered with a patina of scratches and dings, his hands weathered and scratched. The love that has gone into making him as realistic as possible is clear in every single scene and it pays off in droves. We CARE about WALL-E, this boxy, beat up little robot. All this detail imbues him with as much, if not more, personality than the actual human members of the cast who are little more than shapeless blobs in comparison and it’s this that draws us into WALL-E’s strange, quiet world.

Our movie opens at some point in the distant future where the last inhabitant of Earth appears to be a small waste disposal robot by the name of WALL-E, and it’s fair to say that he’s gone more than a little strange. In between his trips to methodically crush and then pile literal mountains of waste he’s made a home for himself in a broken down truck and filled it with all manner of objects that have caught his fancy, from hubcaps and lighters to whisks and bowling pins. Our backstory is filled in through a series of newspaper articles and videos from the mega-conglomerate “Buy-N-Large” which eventually let us know that the Earth is no longer inhabited by humans and everyone has fled into space while the robots cleaned up the planet. Judging by the state of things as WALL-E begins, it’s easy to see that this ambitious plan has failed.

Credit: Disney Pixar

Into WALL-E’s world comes another robot, Eve, who has a very different mission from WALL-E and their tentative, near-silent interactions will eventually kick off a series of events that have repercussions not only for WALL-E but for the remains of mankind in their far off spaceship, the Axiom.

Released in 2008, WALL-E was an interesting venture for Pixar, which till this point had produced more directly kids-focused fare such as Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo. The first near forty minutes of WALL-E are almost totally devoid of dialogue save for adverts, clips from “Hello Dolly” and the synthesiSed speech of Eve and WALL-E.  One could also argue that the story and the messages within this film are more targeted towards an older audience who will likely find the lessons here more poignant.

In this future, almost everything is owned, run and supplied by Buy-N-Large, from shops to mass transit to fleets of tanker ships, every inch of buildings in the remains of Earth plastered with adverts extolling people to buy, buy BUY!  The same goes for the Axiom, where this unchecked consumption is still in full flow with the human passengers rendered to little more than the level of babies, mindlessly consuming whatever the adverts tell them to. Their shapes are rounded and ill-defined, even strongly resembling babies in the way they move and the overall appearance of their spongy, rotund bodies.

Credit: Disney Pixar

Bereft of any real agency, even the captain of the ship has been reduced to little more than a figurehead spouting adverts for the latest Buy-N-Large promotion. Themes of obesity, powerlessness, consumerism, technology and climate change run strong throughout and that’s fine. They’re communicated with a deft touch, presented to the audience without overt comment.

Really, though, the core of this story is the relationship between WALL-E and Eve and his adorably clumsy attempts (his understanding of relationships being entirely based on the previously mentioned worn VHS tape of “Hello Dolly”) to get her attention without her blowing him up with the laser cannon conveniently mounted in her arm. To begin with, at least, as little by little she warms to his efforts.

Watching their relationship grow throughout the movie is a delight to behold and no matter how many times I watch it, by the end I’m always shedding manly tears. Totally manly. All that technology ultimately going to waste so they can go revert to some silly agrarian society. Must be the dust from all that farming that’s doing it.

Yep. Dust in my eyes. Totally not for any other reason.

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