I’ve been holding off on writing about WALL-E as I felt it needed to marinate for a while. There are so many things to comment on, I scarcely know where to start. I’ve seen the movie twice now, and it could definitely stand several more viewings. The accolade is often used recklessly, but WALL-E is the very definition of an “instant classic.”
Though I don’t care for Disney otherwise (or particularly any other animation outfit), I’m a dedicated Pixar fan. After last year’s absolutely abortive and formulaic Ratatouille, WALL-E is a welcome return to form and one of their very best films to boot. One aspect of the genius that is WALL-E is the well-developed characters, and the fact that they’re sculpted in such relief with some of the sparsest dialog to hit the screen since 1981’s Quest for Fire. As painfully adorable and engaging as WALL-E himself is (some say he’s the direct descendant of Johnny 5 from 1986’s Short Circuit), even the minor characters (the feisty M-O being my favorite) have depth and appeal.
Thematically, WALL-E takes several modern memes and pushes them to extremes. WALL-E‘s is a world where our destruction of all the resources on Earth, our leaving it behind, and robots patrolling the planet after we’re gone are reality. The big-box retailer (Buy n Large) has grown so big as to replace the government and eventually moved us all off-world aboard its all-inclusive space community — the “Axiom” — where our every need is provided by machines (e.g., hoverchairs, ubiquitous screens, meals in cups eaten through straws, etc.).
The idea that our time on Earth is limited due to our own negligence is not new. The late George Carlin once quipped, “Humans are like a virus. Earth will shake us off like a bad cold and continue on its path.” Dave Allen calls WALL-E, “a parable for our eventual extinction,” and while eschatological themes are disturbingly rampant lately (Children of Men, I Am Legend, Cloverfield, Southland Tales, and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening all toil similar thematic soil), I’d much rather watch a movie laced with global misanthropy than selective racism (as seen in Kung-Fu Panda, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, and The Love Guru. I mean, really… WTF?).
Of course the idea that our replacements will be of our own creation isn’t new either, but neither of these themes are necessarily integral to the central plot or appeal of WALL-E. To me, breaking out of our technologically mediated, workaday trances is the most subtle but most pointed theme in WALL-E (admittedly, that’s my lens), while doing so by way of connecting with each other is its most direct. WALL-E is a lonely collector, and, spurred on by scenes from the 1969 film Hello Dolly, is searching for love. On his quest for companionship, WALL-E nudges everyone he meets out of their normal path. Like the Harlequin in Harlan Ellison‘s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (who deliberately knocks a clockwork world out of its scheduled whack), WALL-E breaks everyone — human and robot — out of their routines and shows them a different way, his intentionality notwithstanding.
In the age of the long tail, it’s refreshing to see a movie that holds appeal for everyone and is still well-crafted in every aspect. Seriously, be wary of the person that doesn’t like WALL-E.
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.