Warning! Warning! The following is a discussion of Wall-E and so contains an extensive reference to the movie along with related material from Pixar Contains major spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk…
This week we’re looking at the film Wall-E a film I’ve been wanting to talk about for the past couple of months since I started my website. Wall-E is a film that is very close to my heart, it’s one of my favourite movies but it’s one of the main things as a kid that really got me thinking about Sci-Fi and even film-making. Whilst it’s a great animated film, it has many elements that try to look at the state of humanity, the world and capitalism. In this very late Animated Sci-Fi month(s) post, I want to look at the many elements that make what could be a general Sci-Fi kids film into a deep and actually quite thoughtful Sci-Fi narrative that can be watched by not just families but also Sci-Fi nerds like me and you. So join us a on journey in an abandoned Earth as we are taking a look into whimsical but dystopian future of Wall-E.
Before I breakdown Wall-E, what is the film about? Taking place in the distant future, Wall-E depicts the remanents of Earth after being trashed by humanity. The planet, now a gigantic rubbish dump, is now left to be cleaned up by robots as humans travel the galaxy waiting for Earth to become once again suitable for lifeforms to survive after leaving around the year 2100. Now over 700 years later, a series of Wall-E robots tasked with cleaning up the Earth have run out of power, with only one left, our main protagonist Wall-E (time to guess how many times I’ll say the title in this post).
Wall-E is the left over robot in a planetary wasteland but as he/it is going on with a normal day or collecting trash and treasures from the wasteland, everything changes. A ship lands down to Earth with a scout robot called Eve, another robot looking for life on Earth, life that Wall-E has just found, a single plant left in a freezer. After messing around and exploring the “life” of Wall-E, he/it presents Eve with the plant where after another heart warming experience with Eve and Wall-E when she is in rest mode, we jump into hyperspace where the main plot starts. A journey to bring humanity back home, 700 years after leaving.
Thanks for baring with me as we looked through the plot. The film Wall-E has many elements that I could say make it stand out from a lot of Sci-Fi but the main two are the use of the realistically empty but hopeful dystopian world and the making the main characters robots that don’t have the ability to speak anymore than two words. The film is based in visual story telling and telling emotion not through tone of voice but in movement of its animated characters and the fantastic sound design. But whilst I could mention many of the technical aspects that makes Wall-E a fantastic film such as the fantastic characters and world it builds, the fantastic animation and as I mentioned, the great sound design, this is not a review. Wall-E upon being a great animated technical achievement in cinema is also a great form of story telling.
Wall-E tells its narrative through a form of visual story telling. The world is made deep with history, items and the leftovers of a Earth once populated by humanity. But whilst it is very grim through the eyes of Wall-E, we can actually see a more optimistic view of a world that is corrupted, deserted and an utter dystopian wasteland. Wall-E has a curiosity of a child and through that perspective, we can see this deserted world in a new light. Whilst we focus on the ideas that the Earth is unsalvageable, Wall-E looks at the treasures hiding beneath what we would call clutter and trash. It gives an optimistic, child like approach to Sci-Fi that is often missing. With experience comes pessimism, an idea that the world and everything within it is corrupt such as the company BnL which can be seen in the background in many scenes throughout the film.
There’s still a hope and romance in the film even though the world would somewhat usually effect this in a lot of other Sci-Fi films. It doesn’t tell the viewer the world is bad and it can’t be fixed but the world isn’t broken but we need to be there to fix it. Much of this story comes from this perspective and delivered near an entirely visual way, the characters of Wall-E and Eve saying very little words to each other but because of how they act and the l. The corporations we often think will help destroy the world are critiqued such as BnL which mirrors companies like Disney, Google or even Tesla but does it in a realistic way. They make their mistakes and huge ones but they are not the reason for our downfall, they are often even looking out for our own interests and BnL is a good parallel of that.
Another element that Wall-E tries to showcase in it’s subtext is individuality and taking risks especially in the captain’s battle against the Hal 9000 esc ship’s computer which tries its best to follow protocol and keep humanity away from Earth. This very much parallels 2001’s battle of man versus machine but adds the element of questioning what makes robots and humans so different from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. We see that Wall-E and Eve are robots that follow their own protocols but follow their own personality, they break many elements that would make them cold robots and become something that seems more human. The ship’s computer instead is cold and harsh. It will do anything disposing of Wall-E and Eve to stop humanity going back to Earth and breaking its protocol.
There’s both a romance but striking humanity to Wall-E that hits the point home and brings all the elements together. Making the robots unique in their expressions and qualities without uttering more then three words, how the world is presented and in the way the ship and its crew drift though space with no goals only just to live a life of lounging in chairs and finding ways to amuse themselves until they eventually die. There’s a good symmetry between how we have treated the Earth, helping for the film to have a small microcosm on the human condition. As they neglect their surroundings on the spaceship for their online devices we similar look at our phones rather than paying attention to the world around us whilst Wall-E, a robot has a simplistic but comfortable life. He wants to be at home, be the people that he sees in the movie he’s found and find love. He craves adventure whilst the humans in Wall-E crave comfort without stress and so go day to day without purpose other than to let the robots do everything for them.
In many ways this parallels films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Blade Runner but does it in an entirely new way for a whole new audience with some of its theming. It’s a piece of animation that is child friendly but never talks down to it’s audience and that is the best thing about Pixar’s early films up to around the release of Up in 2009. How they can explore real issues and themes in the guise of fantastically made animation in a technical sense. It follows companies like Studio Ghibli where animation can be for everyone and an incredible detail to the animation is used to develop their films but also make sure that they don’t dumb down their films because they think children are stupid, children are smarter then that and studios like Pixar and Ghibli understand that. They have great animation but they always tackle issues and characters in a deep and realistic way even in a world that is mystical and dreamy. Wall-E is a perfect culmination of all that.
There’s also the relationship between Wall-E and Eve which brings in much of the hope and heart for much of the film. They are just two robots trying to get humanity back to Earth, they are strong and perserverant in a way most of the humans no longer are until they release at the end there’s hope to go back to the original home of humanity. The way their story is told is beautiful, it makes romance between two robots seem incredibly real and personal, the perfect romantic story for something like Sci-Fi. Something that gets our heart warming but also makes us think. Very subtle visual ques are used to make them seem both very different but similar, they emote through tiny motions and tiny sounds, they make us feel for these characters even though in the real world they would just be hunks of metal and that is the pure talent that Pixar has.
As we follow these robots on a wacky adventure, the film allows us to also question how we live our lives in front of screens instead of having adventures and exploring the world around us, just instead looking at the black mirrors of our computers or phones (hell, the very things I used to write this very post). We become dormant and passive to the world around us, slugs sitting in front of digital screens like the humans in the film. But what Wall-E says more than anything is that we can be better then that not just we should be better then that which makes the film so special from a writing stand point as a family oriented Sci-Fi film.
In conclusion, Wall-E tackles themes of our own humanity but also how we treat the world and ourselves in a futuristic setting. It’s not just a great animated film but it’s arguably a great Sci-Fi film. It presents a dark version of the world in our future which is probably one of the more realistic I’ve seen to date, even factoring in the robots who become more and more dynamic and human. It does this in the ways the robots and humans both react to the world. The humans become blotted and lazy whilst the robots explore snd do everything else for them. All in all, it’s a story about how the world won’t get better unless we make it better and abandoning the Earth is going to help no one because even in darkest times there’s some sort of hope; a mountain of green in a dystopian wasteland.
And with that final note, that’s plenty from me today and me talking about the great animated Sci-Fi Romance Wall-E. There’s just so much little tiny attentions to detail sprinkled throughout the plot and the technical aspects of the film that doesn’t just make it a great and fun visual feast but something that is also very thoughtful and interesting in the themes and concepts that it presents for a family audience. Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, future thinkers. Are there any episodes or movies from the series you wished I mentioned, I missed or didn’t look at in enough detail? Let me know in the comments below…
Next time, 3,2,1 let’s Jam, as we get into the very late third part of animated Sci-Fi month/s with Cowboy Bebop. There may also be a very short anime recommendation of something I have yet to pick. Stay tuned for that as soon as I can get it to you, future thinkers and until next time, see you next time space cowboy…
Michael McGrady, Signing Off.