Tuesday, July 01, 2008

WALL-E Achieves What Kunstler Failed to Do:

To paint a moving characterization of a dystopic future, that is.


Although garbage rather than peak oil is the downfall du jour of Pixar's latest movie, the messages of environmental disaster, human greed and hubris, and the end of the world as we know it are admirably represented.

My generous guy Sam, who made the most money from our recent yard sale, decided what he really wanted to do with all that cash was to take the girls and I to see the movie he's been awaiting. Yup, all that marketing hype hit home for him, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by our cinema experience.

Well, pleasant may not be the best description, as this may have been the darkest children's movie I've ever seen. In a nutshell, humans shit up the planet so badly that it's no longer habitable. But, with the typical human hubris, the multinational robotics corporation BNL, whose CEO is now president of the world, turns to technology to save humanity and the planet—not to mention make a few bucks on the side, I'm sure.

Humans get to go on a fabulous, fun filled space cruise for five years while a fleet of WALL-Es— the lovable little mobile trash compactor—stays behind to clean up our mess.

Unfortunately, things don't quite work out that way. Best laid plans and all. And the movie opens to WALL-E tooting around a trash filled planet, still dutifully making garbage bricks and using them to build sky scraper sculptures, eerie mirrors to the abandoned buildings all around him, acting as monuments to a long-gone culture of consumption and waste.

WALL-E is a lonely little robot with only a twinkie eating cockroach for company until a space ship arrives with a fancy, shiny egg shaped probe named EVE. Robot love ensues, which is sweet and suitably endearing, but of course, not without some trouble along the way.

As EVE fulfills her directive on earth, she clamps back into a shiny egg and calls home. WALL-E follows EVE into space, an adventure which finds the remains of the human race still cruising along 700 years later. Only now, they're all so fat they can no longer walk unsupported, not to mention the bone density loss from a lifetime in space, and they spend all their time floating in robotic versions of those little electric scooters that resemble chaise lounges, drinking their food from robot-delivered super size cups, chatting and surfing the web on virtual computer screens that float in front of their faces, blinding them to the real world all around. Only by falling off the wagon, or being knocked of by WALL-E to be more precise, do the people begin to see what's right in front of them: stars, pools, each other. As my kids observed, there are babies and adults, but few kids on the ship, and if the people never touch each other, how are the babies made?

Good question, as the movie pans to a nursery filled with bassinets and virtual mobiles in a scene that rivals any good sci-fi portrayal of mass body production and corporate brainwashing. Pixar's movie is a pint-size Matrix, pitting man against machine with some very dark undertones.

I'll skip the total spoilers to say that the ship's captain rises to the occasion, managing to haul himself to his own two feet and take the first small steps forward for the new humanity, albeit with the kind of grace seen only in sumo wrestling matches. The writing on the wall as the final credits roll gives hope, definitely, but also the clear indication that humanity is starting from scratch. The earth will heal, human bodies will get stronger as they rediscover labor and meaning in both the soil and each other. Even if pizza plants never materialize, viewers are left to hope that eventually all the ingredients to make a pizza may, indeed, be possible.

While WALL-E may not be the wake up call the world needs (and oh, the irony of the pre-movie marketing consumption!), it does offer wonderful fodder for conversation and a place to begin talking about sustainability with kids, though hopefully without the scapegoating of fat people that this movie comes dangerously close to doing. It also does a really great job of raising difficult and painful ideas within a relatively safe space, which might... just might offer adults the opportunity to consider conservation and sustainability on a wider scale. MAUS it is not, but the movie achieves a similar effect of demystifying collective denial by using innocent images of cartoons and cute little robots.


Jenny said...

OK I'm not reading this because I want to see the movie, but I thought you'd like to see my brother in law's take on this movie. He's a huge movie fanatic and has a blog where he reviews several movies each week.


Ren said...

My kids have been waiting for this one! Now I'm more excited too. It sounds great.

anajz said...

What a great review! My 16 year old daughter was just telling me that she wanted to go see this movie...which I thought was a bit strange for a teen to want to see a PIXAR animated film. After reading your review I-I want to go see it!
I so enjoy reading your blog...I have a little something for you over at my place. :)

Madeline said...

We saw it yesterday and loved it. It was depressing though. How astute of your kids to notice that there were babies but no kids and to wonder how those babies could have been conceived. Test tubes, I guess.