WALL•E

Disney is known for inserting social messages into some of their films. Certainly, Mulan and Pocahontas had social messages. Some of these stories, like Beauty and the Beast, already had morals built in. Disney is also known for producing some of the most vapid, brainless, and poorly written films in Hollywood. Luckily, WALL·E is a well written example of modern media, and has a number of timely messages worked into the story.


The Corporation

An interesting leap this film makes is by removing the notion of government, or of nation states altogether, and replacing those ideas with the corporation. The film is set a few hundred years in the future and instead of a government, a giant corporation ‘Buy N Large’ (BNL), rules the Earth. BNL is clearly a satire on large direct to consumer retailers like Wal-Mart or Costco. References here are made through BNL’s cloying marketing image and the references to the excessive bulk at which purchases can be made in their stores.

The concept of the corporation supplanting the nation state is not new. It is, however, unusual to see it done in such a benign film. Scenes which feature the president (Fred Willard) hearken to scenes with the US president, but instead of the great seal, the BNL logo adorns the podium. In this regard, humanity had given up everything it held dear and had fought for, and traded it in for the glamour of the capitalist-driven corporate governance model.

The Culture of Consumption

The most stark representation in the film is the state of the Earth. In the beginning of the film, we see Earth as a desolate, ruined, lifeless, toxic shell. There is no life except a small robot designated WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class) and his pet cockroach. The world is covered in enormous piles of garbage. Malfunctioning electronic billboards speak of garbage mounds getting out of control, and refer to a space ship known as Axiom that can whisk people away from the seas of waste. Amongst the sky scrapers of the abandoned city, there are gigantic stacked cubes of garbage.

Aboard the Axiom, humans now live as giant slugs. They are all atrophied and excessively obese and lay on mobile beds which entertain and feed them at the slightest grunt. They need never move. Uttering a simple command can bring them aid, food, or change the color of their clothes. They spend all of their time consuming, languishing, and being entertained. They never have to think for themselves, or do anything else. Despite what writer and director Andrew Stanton has said in interviews, this is a clear criticism of modern consumer culture and of capitalism itself.

Many apologists portray capitalism as a self-regulating autonomous system which ensures the freedom and happiness of all people. This is usually done in direct contrast with communism or socialism or other economic models. This is not how the film portrays it. Capitalism and consumerism have enslaved humanity. Literally, the Axiom’s autopilot unit even moves to usurp the captain’s orders once his wishes come into direct conflict with the edicts passed down by the long dead corporate president. The people themselves are all zombies, so blinded by advertising and luxury and excess and food that they have wasted away. With WALL·E as an example of modern media, they are depicted in one of the worst ways possible– as being fat and lazy. Furthermore, it is interesting that humans from the time of the Axiom’s launch are all live action actors, like Fred Willard. But over the course of the 700 years of exile and opulence, they had degenerated into puffy, fat, cartoonish CGI characters. This progression is best shown when the captain reviews the portraits of his predecessors, each more bloated and animated than the last. It is an excellent and self-deprecating way for the film to examine humanity’s evolution.

When WALL-E enters their universe, though, and begins to disrupt their life, things begin to change. With their chairs deactivated for even just a few seconds, the people WALL-E encounters become immediately enamored and fascinated not just by the unusual little robot, but by the beauty of the space outside their ship and by the magnificent scale of the Axiom itself. Instead of portraying technology as the enemy, the film puts the blame on generations of apathy that have wasted humanity to nothing, just as the Earth itself was wasted to nothing. It is not technology that is to blame, but rather the nebulous choking cloud of consumer culture that has toxified humanity and the Earth. At its heart, WALL·E is about humanity finding its way back and waking up from a 700 year nightmare.

Directive

The film additionally has an environmental message. With the Earth laying in ruins, smothered in garbage, and too toxic for life, the cautionary message about protecting the environment is clear. At the same time, plant life (in the form of a small plant WALL-E found sprouting in an old refrigerator) is depicted as being of limitless value– cementing its thematic place as a symbol for life, the Earth, and as hope for the future.

Robosexuals

WALL-E moves among many deactivated brother units which, like him, once spent all their time stacking garbage cubes. He has been doing his work for centuries, and through all of this experience, seems to have formed some rudimentary intelligence. He stacks items in a systematic way, going about his directive as efficiently as he can. Humanity, however, has begun to creep into his programming. WALL-E collects interesting or useful items he finds in his work. He has a massive collection of rubber ducks, utensils, lighters, spare parts for himself, and other bobbles which he proudly shares with EVA, a feminine robot probe who comes to Earth in search of plant life from the Axiom. WALL-E is also intensely curious, seeking out things he doesn’t understand and becoming entranced by video recordings of Hello, Dolly! and other human distractions. He is fascinated by romance, and experiences satisfaction, fear, loneliness, and eventually love.

It is this humanity ingrained in WALL-E that sparks the interest of EVA, leads him to collect and save the plant specimen he finds, and ultimately aids him in saving the passengers of the Axiom from themselves. He shares this humanity with anyone he encounters– his innocence, his willingness to please, his dedication to his mission, his curiosity, and his desire to love and be loved. These are the things that the humans lost in themselves, and by proxy, which the film critiques that humanity itself is losing. It is a powerful message contained in a very simple film.

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