Thursday, July 10, 2008


The opening of the movie is spectacular. The visuals are breathtaking and for the first half hour or so I was totally taken in. There is no dialogue as we see a little robot scoop garbage, crush it into cubes, then place the cubes into piles that dwarf the nearby skyscrapers in an abandoned city in dark earth tones.

I can see growth-at-any-cost conservatives shake their heads and make snide comments about liberal Hollywood brainwashing children with this sort of pollution-killed-world followed by images of bloated humans too fat to walk living in some sort of evil utopian mix of Las Vegas and a cruise ship, way out in space.

But despite the visual technology and the opening environmental gloom, the story is basically the conservative Disney formula with anthropomorphic robots who fall in love and save humanity.

I couldn’t help thinking about what Disney messages I was absorbing as a kid when I saw Snow White, Cinderella, Bambi, and all the others. The fairy tales, well, Disney just adapted the stories that were already in our culture. Sure, the various male and female roles of those stories have been well deconstructed. But what about in this movie?

Although the she robot - Eve - is Macly sleek and beautiful and the he robot - WALL-E -is, well, a geek, that isn’t so different from Clark Kent or Spider Man. And, after all, Eve is merely a probe acting mechanically and WALL-E is the one who gives her the plant that changes everything, who sneaks into the spaceship and starts a rebellion among the ship’s robots. And the movie is called WALL-E, not Eve. Cinderella and Snow White at least got the title roles, even if they had to wait to be saved by men.

And what message does the movie give us about humanity? Despite the obvious and bleak environmental message, the movie is giving us a pretty conservative feel good, we-Americans-can-overcome-anything-because-basically-we-are-the-best. You can trash your planet, then leave and wallow, fat and lazy, in do-nothing luxury for 700 years, and still manage to suddenly regain your physical and spiritual strength to fight oppression and recolonize the world. So grab another Coke and butter up that pop-corn.

Good science fiction and good fantasy require suspension of disbelief as the story violates one or two basic truths of life as we know it. But from there on it needs to be internally consistent. Once Dorothy got dropped into Oz, everything was perfectly reasonable and consistent. This story wasn’t. There were lots of little loose ends. The precious plant that signals the ship can return to earth, despite being naked in outer space, still lives. It was well protected throughout, there was no need to flash freeze it outside the ship with just some minor wilting.

The Captain, on the one hand has to look up words like 'soil,' but spits out 'mutiny' at the Hal clone computer running the ship. If 'soil' dropped out the vocabulary after 700 years, surely 'mutiny' would have too after 700 years of total rule by the robots and computers.

It never was clear whether these were the same people who left earth 700 years ago who somehow stayed alive for all that time or if this was many generations of earthlings later. If the former, how did they live that long? There were children on board - it would be even stranger if they had stayed children all that time. But the human blobs who couldn’t get off their floating lounge chairs, needed help moving if they fell off, and spoke to each other via cell-phone like screens even though they were right next to each other, surely didn’t have sex. In fact, the two who were interfered with by WALL-E at one point accidentally touched hands and their looks of surprise suggested this was a totally new experience.

I wrote most of this and then looked to see if it had already been said. I found a list of many reviews and read a few from the top of the list (people who gushed) and a few from the bottom (people who gave mixed reviews.) Some of what I wrote was said by everyone I read, but most were so dazzled by the good parts they didn't reflect on how, rather than breaking new ground, the robots (such as the anti-contaminant robot) say, were just mechanical versions of the mice in Cinderella Or they simply saw such things as homage. Kenneth Turan of the LA Times, a reviewer I generally like, interprets it this way:
Daring and traditional, groundbreaking and familiar, apocalyptic and sentimental, "Wall-E" gains strength from embracing contradictions that would destroy other films.
I saw it as pushing and then running out of steam and going back to cliché. When I started blogging it never occurred to me to talk to the people in court I was writing about. I watched as the real reporters did. Well, of course, that's how you get your story. But when I did, finally, make contact with my 'subjects' I also realized that it changed the relationship. And when I wrote I found myself having to fight back toward objectivity. Reading Turan's review, I can't help but wonder whether the LA Times' long time reviewer knows the people who made this film and whether that colored his review. I have no idea, but just a thought.

The reviewer who came closest to capturing my reaction was SF Chronicle reviewer, Mick LaSalle, who probably doesn't know the Pixar people, wrote
What we have with "WALL-E" is 45 minutes of a masterpiece and another 50-odd minutes of dithering - there as a concession that you can't market a 45-minute movie.

1 comment:

  1. I liked your review and I put a link on my blog with a citation from yours, I hope you don't mind. If so,let me know and I will modify my blog. I think that the best part of the movie, is the one about the freak robots. I liked it very much.


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