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.

11 thoughts on “Wall-E for President

  1. As to references to Douglas Adams: I was reminded of So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish. There is a scene where Arthur Dent and Fenchurch, freshly fallen in love and suddenly finding themselves capable of flying, play around in the air, next to a Boeing 747 while being watched by an old lady passenger through the window. The similarity to Wall.E is striking.

  2. Okay, I can see how the Golgafrinchians on prehistoric earth are similar to the humans on the Axiom. I also thought of the Eloi in The Time Machine (the pampered livestock for the technological Morlocks).

  3. The main similarity I saw was the concept of space ship as ark, and Adam’s Golgafrinchans being out of shape and fairly stupid. The whole bit about them crashlanding on earth and subsequently trashing the place doesn’t match up though.
    Adams also imbued his robots with a great deal of personality. (Marvin the Paranoid Android, Eddie the ships computer, the Sirus Cybernetics people movers)
    I was also reminded of Bill Peet’s “Wump World”, an environmental cautionary tale for kids that I remember reading back in the early 80’s. It has the same “single plant growing from the rubble” iconography used in Wall-E.

  4. Well, I agree there are similarities, but didn’t The Love Boat come out before either of them? Wall-E also borrows from ET, Short Circuit, Silent Running, The Tin Soldier… I think the remix was creative enough that I see homage than rip-off.

  5. The Axiom was definitely modeled (or ripped) from the Starship Titanic. That’s the first thing I noticed (was also noticeable because both were 3D). Also the robots had some resemblance to the bots on board the ST. And then there’s the whole robot-driven ship thing too.

  6. I saw Wall-E with my daughter last week. While it has many of the conventions of a typical “kid movie”, it also has an emotional depth you don’t often see in kids movies. I actually got a bit teary when Eve ignores her “directive” and stays with Wall-E. I also saw bits Douglas Adams throughout the movie.
    The “Presto” short at the beginning shows that somebody at Pixar has been playing a lot of Portal.

  7. I love Wall-E. I’ve seen it twice now :) The music in the film was perfect and so much better than any dialogue in the same setting could ever be. I found new things to love the second time I saw it (one week after my initial viewing). Wall-E is just a wonderful movie from beginning to end. I’m so glad you got to see it with your family, Dr. Jerz.

  8. I love the illustration of Wall-E watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon (Tom suspiciously looks like McCain, Jerry is implicitly Obama) in the sidebar for that NY Times article. And Rich hit the problem spot on: the political conflicts are reduced to so much childishness in the name of good TV.
    Everyone’s telling me I must see Wall-E. Thank you for pointing out its uncanniness on my new ‘popular uncanny’ blog… I still find myself loathe to embrace Pixar’s replacement of hand-drawn art with computer graphic design (only becuase it gets more budget than other artistic forms) but that bias is one of my flaws. I’ll give Wall-E a chance!

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