Wall-E for President

I just saw Wall-E with the family. It’s rare for me to suggest that we all go see a movie — my wife is the cinema buff. But I had read outstanding reviews, and it is a Pixar film, so I went in with high expectations, and was satisfied. It didn’t knock my socks off; the “Daddy, is he really dead?” ending was predictable — I think the death of a supporting character was probably necessary to boost the emotional energy, but I did like the supporting cast of malfunctioning robots (I wanted them to have more screen time).  But those are quibbles.

For bedtime reading, my son and I are going through How to Survive a Robot Uprising, and I just taught him about the uncanny valley last night. So it was interesting to see how human the robots seemed in this film, and how artificial the humans seemed (though that’s a design choice that fits well with the story). In the New York Times, Frank Rich writes a thoughtful review of Wall-E:

This movie seemed more realistically in touch with what troubles America this year than either the substance or the players of the political food fight beyond the multiplex’s walls.While the real-life grown-ups on TV were again rebooting Vietnam, the kids at “Wall-E” were in deep contemplation of a world in peril — and of the future that is theirs to make what they will of it. Compare any 10 minutes of the movie with 10 minutes of any cable-news channel, and you’ll soon be asking: Exactly who are the adults in our country and who are the cartoon characters?

Almost any description of this beautiful film makes it sound juvenile or didactic, and it is neither. So I’ll keep to the minimum. “Wall-E” is a robot-meets-robot love story, as simple (and often as silent) as a Keaton or Chaplin fable, set largely in a smoldering and abandoned Earth, circa 2700, where the only remaining signs of life are a cockroach and a single green sprout.

The robot of the title is a battered mobile trash compactor whose sole knowledge of human civilization and intimacy comes from the avalanche of detritus the former inhabitants left behind — a Rubik’s Cube, an engagement ring and, most strangely, a single stuttering VCR tape of “Hello, Dolly!,” a candied Hollywood musical from 1969. Wall-E keeps rewinding to the song that finds the young lovers pledging their devotion until “time runs out.”

Pixar is not Stanley Kubrick. Though “Wall-E” is laced with visual and musical allusions to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” its vision of apocalypse now is not as dark as Kubrick’s then. The new film speaks to the anxieties of 2008 as specifically as “2001” did to the more explosive tumult of its (election) year, 1968. That’s more than upsetting enough.