Saturday, July 5, 2008
A Parrothead Review: WALL-E
For more time than I am willing to admit I’ve been trying to write something at least half way deserving of Disney/Pixar’s new film “WALL-E”. I’ve simply been unable to express in words how much of a home run the masters at Pixar have achieved yet again on several different levels. For me their high mark was “Finding Nemo” for both the story and how well the colors exploded on the screen as Marlin began his epic journey to find his son. While this movie was very different from all their others I have to say that it still held my daughter’s attention the entire time while offering some very adult ideas for grownups to mull over.
The opening scenes depart greatly from the bright living colors Pixar has done in its other movies. Dusty beige and browns dominate a dead world showing skyscrapers being overshadowed my huge towers of compacted trash. Flying over the long dead city we see huge signs everywhere for “Buy-N-Large” something that might be described as the mutant corporate offspring of a mating between Halliburton and Wal-Mart. From the visuals we learn “Buy-N-Large” dominated retail sales, banking, public transit, and just about every aspect of life before Earth was abandoned. At ground level we are shown mounds of un-compacted refuse and moving amongst the detritus we find Walle doing the job he was programmed to do seven-hundred years earlier. Walle is the last of his kind whose job it was to collect, compact, and organize the trash for some sort of global clean-up that the president of Buy-N-Large assured would take only five years as the planet was evacuated . During that time away from the planet people would enjoy having their every whim met by an armada of service robots aboard huge luxury starships. I will have to be forgiven but given the nature of Buy-N-Large apparent total global corporate takeover I had to wonder what happened to the poorer customers on the dying planet that may not have been able to afford a berth on the interstellar versions of the Love Boat.
Whatever the final disposition of humanity or the project Walle and his defunct kin were tasked with he goes about his daily chores but after many centuries the little robot has developed a curiosity about the discarded items he finds. Things like a cigarette lighter, common light bulb, and bubble wrap arouse his curiosity but his most treasured procession is a betamax copy of “Hello Dolly” that he watches at the end of his work day as he takes refuge in some sort of broken down transport. From this we also learn the little robot is not just curious but we are given numerous hints he has long since exceeded his programming and become a little lonely.
Things get interesting with the arrival of a spaceship that deposits a gleaming white robot that goes about scanning everything around it searching for something. The new robot is Eve and right from the start Walle is smitten over the new robotic stranger. At first Eve doesn’t even know Walle exists and comes close to blasting him to atoms a couple of times but after some close calls the two finally get to know each other. Walle eventually takes her to his place to show off his collection of humanity’s trash and to make some simple and innocent robotic moves on Eve. Eve is fairly unimpressed with Walle’s stuff until he shows her a simple living green weed that he had found while working and had transplanted to an old shoe. Eve quickly takes the plant, stores it inside her and shuts down. Walle is worried and heart broken but stands guard over her until to his surprise she is picked up by the same ship that dropped her off taking her off the planet. Like any guy in love Walle refuses to simply let her go and hitches a ride on the ship that takes her carrying him off as well.
I won’t go any deeper into the story, but I will say that to a great extent the situation and visuals do depart from the usual kid’s movie. I referred earlier to how Pixar scored a homerun with this movie because if you step back and look at the entire forest instead of just the simple trees this movie is a strong statement against mega-corporations that answer to no one, sickening American hyper-consumerism, and the destruction of the environment. For me, one of the funniest and strongest images had to do with Walle hanging onto the spaceship carrying Eve and passing real close to one of the Apollo landing sites. As the ship and Walle continues out we are shown a Buy-N-Large corporation sign proclaiming the impending construction of an outlet mall on the moon. Here in South Carolina as unregulated developed has destroyed much of what people came down south to enjoy in the way of nature and culture, after the golf course and gated communities outlet malls symbolize for me the worst aspects of the tourist industry and population growth.
Humans do make an appearance in this movie and right from the start I was intensely curious about Pixar actually having a real man and woman appear in film along with Fred Willard who makes a cameo as the global CEO of Buy-N-Large. As the movie progresses I learn why they went to the extreme to show real people. After seven-hundred years aboard luxury starships the descendants of those who fled Earth having their every whim met bear a far stronger resemblance to Jabba the Hut than the unnamed slim and attractive couple that Fred Willard’s character showed boarding the starship during the evacuation. Taking the couch potato syndrome to the bizarre people now move only by floating on some sort of ant-gravity easy chair never taking their eyes off a holographic screen floating in front of them. Legs are little more than numbs never used and the only use for arms is to reach for some super-sized drink that a tiny robot butler supplies a person as the last drink has been finished. At one point we are introduced to the human captain of the starship Walle ends up on while trying to stay with Eve. As the captain goes about his duties on the bridge we see behind him the seven-hundred year “evolution” of humans as the pictures of former captains’ show each one becoming just a little more rounder as the centuries progressed much in the same way a famous painting show humanity evolving from ape to Homo sapien. Lending much to the argument of me forcibly ending my son’s renewed interest in his Nintendo Wii and making him run a mile or two every couple of days.
Simply put this is a great movie. Some will completely miss all the images I write about and their greater meaning only seeing the entertainment value of a cute robot. Others will find this movie too preachy and maybe even some sort of liberal propaganda given that it dares to criticize in a cartoon manner the lifestyles and wasteful nature of many. Yes, I personally saw the greater meaning in the movie and I agreed with it completely. Decades ago when the world’s population was much smaller and poorer America committed the sin of blithely ignoring the waste and pollution it created and its affects on the rest of the world. Earth was a big place and the idea that little humans could make a harmful mark on it carried an air of arrogance they felt. Now we are approaching seven billion people on the planet with only fools and liars claiming that our actions and lifestyles are too small to affect the world we share. The difference this time it’s not just lazy Americans, the rest of the world after centuries of oppression and poverty wants what we have and quite simply the planet ain’t got it in her. Natural resources are running thin, despite some honest efforts pollution is getting worse, the oceans are threaten due to over fishing, and the entire planet is warming due to CO2 emissions. Several times half jokingly I’ve written how I believe humans are not an intelligent species. We seem unable to move beyond the basic survival program that millions of years have hardwired in our brains. At some point the species as a whole will have to acknowledge the fact that we cannot go on like we are currently. Adjustments and sacrifices will have to be made for the sake of everything will hold dear beyond the realm of material processions. With us Americans having to pull our collective asses from our butts and come to terms with what we have done for the sake of cheap CD’s and fast food. The humans in WALL-E had the chance to board spaceships and cruise among the stars to avoid the worst aspects of what they wrought. Here in the real world we will not have the same advantage and our own time is running out.