My sister and I went to see wall·e this afternoon.
After the extraordinary success of Ratatouille, I had high expectations for Pixar. Pixar has consistently offered excellent films with lovable characters, engaging stories, and exquisite imagery. When Disney bought out the studio, I was seriously worried that their independence and creativity would suffer -- Disney's in-house animation projects had been famously bad up to that point. Home on the Range and Brother Bear come immediately to mind. I was worried. Ratatouille started production before the acquisition. I believe wall·e is the first Pixar film produced fully under Disney ownership.
When I saw the early wall·e trailers, I became more worried. The trailers disclose a lonely robot cleaning up the mess humans left on Earth. I worried the story would be saturated with oh-so-fashionable environmentalism.
But none of it was to be.
Yes, the Earth is a mess. Yes, it was run by a mega-corporation called "Buy 'n' Large." Yes, the characters spend much of the movie running around after a plant. Yes, the humans are fat and lazy. But it is not an environmentalist movie. It is not an anti-consumerism movie. It is not an anti-technology movie. And it is not an anti-man movie.
Once again, Pixar creates instantly lovable characters, tells an engaging story with a positive message, and does it all with incomparable skill and beauty.
wall·e is, so far as we know, the last surviving member of a swarm of robots built to clean up all the trash that had accumulated on Earth. The humans left for a nice, leisurely, 5-year cruise on a great luxury starship called Axiom (I can't tell if this is significant -- would anyone care to theorize?) while the wall·e robots (built by the ever-present "Buy 'n' Large" corporation) stayed behind to manage the trash.
Well it seems there was too much trash, or something happened, and 700 years later, wall·e is the only robot still working, and the trash is still there, and the humans haven't come back.
In the meantime, wall·e has developed a personality. He has a home where he collects interesting stuff from the trash. He has resilient little cockroach for a friend. He has a favorite movie -- Hello, Dolly! -- and dreams of putting on his Sunday shoes and dancing with a beautiful woman. Robot. Whatever -- it's endearing.
The Earth is, so far as we are shown at the beginning of the film, anyway, barren of plant-life. The beginning is dominated by reds and yellows and grays, except for glimpses of what used to be a great civilization, where there are faded blues. But no green. No plants in evidence. Until while working one day, wall·e comes across an old refrigerator. He cuts it open and inside discovers a tiny plant, which he takes home to add to his collection.
One day, a ship arrives. A probe ship, which deposits a new robot on Earth - eve. She is a sleek, powerful, advanced machine sent to search the Earth for plant life, as a sign that mankind can finally return. She and wall·e develop a friendship, and wall·e gives eve his most prized possession -- the tiny plant. This triggers eve's primary directive and she shuts down and waits for her ship to take her back to the Axiom. A distressed wall·e tries to wake her, but eventually resigns himself to a merely protective role. When her ship comes, wall·e hitches a ride.
The residents of the Axiom have, over the 700 years they've been in space, grown into fat, sedentary, creatures with stubby little legs and unable to move about under their own power. They whiz about the ship on hovering recliners that keep them permanently ensconced in their own little overstimulated electronic bubbles. They never take the time to look around themselves. And the only one who appears to do any work (such as it is) is the practically redundant ship's captain, who takes a back seat to the robotic autopilot, auto.
Something has gone wrong with mankind, but it isn't commercialism or individualism or egoism. It's laziness. Laziness as a result of having around a huge workforce of sustaining robots willing to work for free. Laziness due to complacency -- a lack of a desire to advance. Laziness due to a lack of ambition. Laziness, it turns out, enforced by the upper echelon of robots, lead by auto, who are confused (much like hal-9000 was in 2001: A Space Odyssey) by a classified directive issued by a frustrated President in the early days of the cleanup effort.
wall·e and eve work together, without sacrifice, to return the ship to Earth. The useless captain, having learned of human life and culture on Earth from the ship's computer, cries out, "I don't want to survive, I want to live!" He lunges from his recliner and takes down auto, allowing the ship to return to Earth. The humans are excited to start building a new home for themselves. And as it turns out, the bleak, barren Earth from the beginning of the film is only a small corner. While the Earth is still a bit of a mess, it is not barren -- it is teeming with plant life, ready and waiting to one again serve as a perfect environment for man.
The virtues are hard work, tenacity, and selfish love. The vices are complacency and thoughtless obedience. The universe is a benevolent place full of wonders and opportunity. And at the end, the guy gets to dance with the girl.
wall·e is a delightful film, and completely upholds Pixar's excellent reputation.
PS: I do have to say that there was one sour note, however. The Peter Gabriel song, "Down to Earth," trampled on the movie by treating it like the environmentalist paean some people will likely mistake it for. The song played during the closing credits over images of mankind, helped by the robots, rebuilding the Earth into a home. It was awful. You can look up the lyrics yourself if you want, but basically they made it seem like the humans were returning to be stewards for nature, rather than live on Earth. It was disgusting.
Update: Jennifer Snow has an excellent review over at Literatrix.