Wednesday, July 2, 2008


(There are spoilers galore here, so be warned.)

The last thing I'm going to do is try to make a message movie!
-Andrew Stanton

Andrew Stanton may not be trying to send a message, but that doesn't mean that it isn't there. Unfortunately, it overwhelms the main character and the message itself is only half-baked. The half that's there describes the problem; the missing half has to do with responsibility and offering a solution.

The film presents the audience with a monopoly capitalist economy gone mad. Buy N Large seems to be the only remaining business on the planet and it is so blind to the effects of its way of doing business that it finds it easier to transport its customers and system into space than to change its ways. The people who consume in this society are sheep. So long as they are entertained and distracted, they give no thought to the waste building up around them.

There is apparently no moral price to pay for this. The business isn't condemned for polluting the Earth and the consumers are not condemned for their willingness to attach themelves to the corporate teat. If the film has a villain, it's a ship's computer system that isn't flexible enough to deal with altered circumstances. Once the ship returns to Earth, there is no awareness of what got the humans into trouble in the first place or any plan for avoiding the problem in the future. No one takes responsibility, and that seems okay with Andrew Stanton. The humans get home, Wall-E gets a girl friend and that's all that seems to matter.

This isn't the first time that an animated feature has flirted with a message and then backed away from it. Chicken Run and Madagascar both deal with meat-eating as a threat but can't indict the meat-eating audience. Wall-E can't indict mindless consumption when Disney and Pixar are asking the audience to buy the DVD and whatever merchandise that this (and previous) movies have deposited on store shelves. When the point of a film is to generate profit, you can't expect the film to criticize the process by which the profit is made. That puts the film in an impossible situation.

And the strange thing is that it didn't have to be there. The film is called Wall-E, but the film seems to lose interest in him once the humans show up. The humans' situation overwhelms his love story, and the humans are not well-developed characters. The film abandons character for plot. Wall-E isn't even aware of what the plant means for the humans; he just wants to make sure Eve gets it, hoping that the gift will bring them closer emotionally. She also doesn't understand why it's important, simply that it's her prime directive.

That means there's a giant disconnect between the robots' and human's motivations. Had Wall-E understood the larger repercussions of the plant, at least the two stories would have been tied together. Instead they're separate and neither is particularly satisfying. Wall-E is treated as a child-like character, so his feelings for Eve can't go beyond the limits of puppy love. The humans have fouled their own nest and lack any initiative, so why should the audience care about them?

Science fiction requires that any novel ideas make sense, but there are big logic flaws in this film. If the Axiom's computers know that they've been directed not to return to Earth, why are they bothering to send the space probes there? What possible reason would the computers have for not notifying the humans that the Earth can't be rehabilitated? The humans seem totally satisfied on the ship, so what difference would it make?

Why, when the Axiom tilts, do people slide to the side? Either the ship has artificial gravity, in which case the people will be pulled towards the floors regardless of the ship's orientation (there is no 'up' in space), or the ship has no gravity, in which case the room would shift but the people would stay stationary.

It appears when two of the humans touch, it's a novel experience for them. So where do the babies on board come from?

If the ship disposal unit hurls tons of garbage into space, where does the ship get the raw material to keep manufacturing the crap that it sells to humans? Where are they getting all that rocket fuel for repeated probe trips, since there are several Eves on the probe mother ship and I assume that they've been sending probes for several hundred years?

A film that wants to be taken seriously has to do more than choose a serious subject. Wall-E flirts with big issues, but doesn't do them justice. The film is getting good reviews and will undoubtedly make money, but I found it to be a major disappointment.

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