Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Pixar Gets Political

Not since Short Circuit have we encountered such an adorably harmless robot.  Wall•E is a simple ‘bot who putters out his days humming Hello, Dolly! tunes and discovering treasure in others’ trash (dinglehopper, anyone?).  It isn’t until a fem ‘bot lands on the devastated Earth that we realize our hero’s true plight:  the little guy just wants some love.  And, of course, to save Earth along the way — or does he really want that after all?

If the basic plot of finding love and/or a sense of belonging seems all too familiar to us (everything from The Little Mermaid to E.T. to Lilo and Stitch come to mind), what does seem  different is the overt politics that spring up mid-‘toon that are only resolved when the love quandary of our faithful ‘bot is happily settled.  Pixar isn’t dealing with complex emotions and character relationships as it has in the past; in Wall•E, writer and director Andrew Stanton has discarded those notable trademarks for a strangely simplistic statement concerning the environment and how our ignorance and laziness will most assuredly lead to the absolute destruction of the planet.  That is, of course, until we remember that what the world needs now, is love, sweet love, and then we realize that all will be righted soon enough.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on what many would defend as just a “kids movie,” and what others would call an amazing technological feat (as always, the details are delightful and the artistry in animation stunning).  The problem with that argument is that Pixar’s films are always awe-inspiring to look at, and the company doesn’t create just “kids movies,” it never has.  Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles all subtly produce rich characters and situations and the emotions always run high and deep in those films.  Wall•E never reaches those heights because no matter how many times our protagonist (and he is A-dorable)  induces “awwws” from me and the rest of the audience, he never accomplishes anything more.  The adorable android dutifully collects garbage, carefully crunching the junk into easily disposable cubes, but he doesn’t do it because he cares about having a clean Earth.  Just like the blobby humans the film depicts as unthinkingly wittling away their days as a planet goes to ruin, Wall•E simply zooms along, carelessly cleaning out of routine — until a girl comes around, and then he finally cares about saving the Earth, but only because she does, and only because she has been given the “directive” to.

Where Wall•E fails in creating complex characters and subtle plot, however, it makes up for in clever sequences involving the ‘bot’s daily musings (a favorite:  his grudgingly awakening and, groggy, unable to put on his “shoes”) and his dedicated fawning over the laser-happy female ‘bot, Eva. The flick also boasts a typically hilarious Pixar short involving a short-tempered magician and his hungry and rather industrious rabbit.  In the end, I was glad to have met Wall•E; I only wish I had gotten to know him better.

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5 comments on “Pixar Gets Political

  1. Evrim
    July 6, 2008

    I think what you’re missing here is that Wall-E is a tribute more than anything else: here Pixar and Andrew Stanton salute the genius of early pioneering silent cinema especially comedy. In Wall-E is a protagonist as innocent as Chaplin’s Tramp or any Tati creation: someone who is at odds with the world around them, someone who is propelled by simple, human emotions.
    Remove the entire soundtrack from it and Wall-E still remains perfect: sequences such as the space dance bring to the fore the magic of cinema; here Pixar re-invents those moments that made us swoon in the first place – each gesture, each movement is carefully designed, carefully arranged. If complex characters seem to be not existen on surface of the film, it’s because they’re buried deep within its’ structure; look carefully and you see hundreds of years of influence working to create something as original as WAll-e.

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  2. lilyseye
    July 6, 2008

    If what you say is true – it’s supposed to be about the beauty of simple emotions and the wonder of cinema, what then are we to make of the environmental politics that are not just simple, but simplistic? I think your analysis works wonderfully for the first part of the film (which I loved), but falters when considering the political slide downhill in the second half. Sure, there are some lovely fleeting moments in that portion of the film, but they are few and far between and almost entirely buried by the strange turn in the story.

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  3. Evrim
    July 6, 2008

    I think you’re focusing on a side of the film which is there merely to propel the story forward: I don’t think the message is as political as it is a nail to hang the plot onto: the whole of the second part is occupied with Wall-E desperately trying to help EVE complete her ‘directive’ : the fact that the directive involves the delivery of a plant neither is here nor there. The film does not spend time chastising the enviromental politics: if anything what it says it that we need to use less technology and be more open to the beauty of what is around us. But it still remains second nature: look at the weird plethora of robots who occupy major roles in the plot: they are still continuation of Wall-E: the odd, the unloved, the innocent who simply do not fit in with the rest of their ‘society’. Wall-E’s desire to do something good stems from the most basic desire to not be lonely, to have a companion: the fact that the directive turns out to be universe changing for the entire human race remains still a secondary plot: in the end it is not the captain’s efforts to re-cultivate the land we focus but EVE and Wall-E hand-in-hand, with ‘Hello Dolly’ still echoing in our ears.

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  4. lilyseye
    July 7, 2008

    I can see what you’re saying except for “Wall-E’s desire to do something good…” Wall-E does not desire to do something good. All he desires is to be with Eve, which is totally fine (though we’ve been given no reason for that either besides the fact that he’s desperate for companionship after being by himself for so long), but if that is the case, the film should spend more time developing their relationship and individual characters instead of devolving into an unnecessary environmental plotline. I think it’s strange, if not irresponsible, to use such a political issue as a simple “nail to hang the plot on.” The film’s politics are valid; the film’s use of those politics is sketchy at best.

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  5. Pingback: Pixar soars once again, lifting audiences UP « Critical Confabulations

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This entry was posted on July 2, 2008 by in Animated, Film Reviews, Reviews.

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