Anyone who knows me knows that I love robots. I imagine it began when I saw "Star Wars" for the first time the summer after 4th grade and decided I needed an R2D2 and C3PO of my own. Later, I would discover Robby the Robot of "Forbidden Planet" fame, Gort, the stoic companion of the alien in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and lovable Huey, Dewey, and Louie from the 70's flick "Silent Running." So it should come as no surprise that, when I saw the trailer for Wall-E, I would be one of the first in line to see this tale of a little robot left behind on a deserted and trash-covered planet earth. The visuals in this film, as we might expect of the Pixar folk, are amazing, particularly the opening 40 minutes or so when we see Wall-E travelling about a city emptied of its people, scooping up junk into his trash compactor body and forming it into neat, stackable skyscrapers of garbage. We quickly discover that this mostly voice-less little robot represents the best qualities of humanity: innocence, curiosity, diligence, compassion, and love. Had the movie spent its entire time hanging out with Wall-e on planet earth, I could give it a whole-hearted endorsement.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film finds us and Wall-E on a floating ark in space, the home of the human race for the past 700 years while they wait for creation to reclaim itself on their garbage-strewn home planet. While the humans wait for the little white robot Eve (the "dove" in this version of Noah's ark) to find an olive branch and bring it back to the ship to show them the earth is inhabitable again, the people have nothing to do but wait. It is here that the Pixar folks demonstrate an amazing amount of insenstivity in portraying all the humans as shockingly obese "do-nothings" who spend their days laying on hovering lounge chairs, sucking on sugary slurpy drinks while watching TV and being waited on hand-and-foot by robots. As soon as this part of the story began playing out, I immediately wondered how any heavy-set people in the theater must be feeling. Even worse, how might any overweight children in the theater be feeling about this obviously negative portrayal. Pixar tries to suggest in one throw-away moment that the people are fat because they have been in space so long and lost some bone density, but the much clearer message is that they are chunky because they are lazy and eat too much (and several times the characters' large size is used for visual jokes). A clear sign that Pixar recognized the nastiness of their message is that they chose not insult their target audience: kids. There are no children, let alone overweight children, at all on the ship -- we see only babies and chubby adults. [And good luck finding images of any of the chubby characters in Disney's advertising for the film or the film's official website.]
More ironic still is that the film's criticism seems to be levelled at the very folks who are viewing the movie -- you and me, sitting there, doing nothing, watching a screen while consuming buttered popcorn and Junior Mints. The movie wants us to know that mass consumerism will doom this planet and its people. And you can show your support for that message by going out and buying all the Disney tie-in products and toys that will be filling your store shelves, and eventually your landfills, in the next 6-12 months.
Don't get me wrong. I still want a Wall-E of my own and I really enjoyed 80% of the movie. I just wish the filmmakers had been more sensitive to the unfortunate bigotry in the plot and the overt irony and hypocrisy in their preachy "save the Earth" storyline.
So, what did you think of "Wall-E?"