Having been involved with a new documentary, Renewal, about the religious environmental movement, I am more aware of how environmentalism is represented or addressed in popular culture. From the moment I first saw the trailer for the new Pixar miracle, WALL-E, I was intrigued by its dark, enviromental implications. When the voice over mentioend that humans had left earth and a garbage compacting robot was left behind to clean it up, questions abounded. What happened? What did we do or not do? Can we come back? The film does not answer most of these questions, but it is yet another vehicle for Pixar to make possible the impossible.
Like rats and food in Ratatouille, Pixar successful mixes oil and water again, nearly forty-five minutes of dialogue-less film in a children’s movie. Yet this forty-five minutes is full of the beautiful, mind-blowing animation that we have come to expect from the Emeryville studio. In the process, they “emotionalize” the most “emotionless” charcter, a roving garbage compactor. WALL-E has outlasted his contemporaries, stacking skyscraper-high piles of garbage in the process. He has made a nice home with a collection of toys and other odds and ends and shares it with his best friend, an indestructible cockroach.
WALL-E soon encounters EVE, who we learn arrives on earth to search for resurrected plant life. WALL-E and EVE return a small plant to the AXIOM space colony where humans have devolved into large, plump babies who have forgotten the look and meaning of soil and sea, not to mention agriculture. The discovery of plant life should signal the return to Earth; however, the space station’s autopilot has different plans.
WALL-E is a mixture of apocalypticism, Noah’s Ark, 2001‘s HAL, and even a dose of Idiocracy. It is not heavy-handed enough to be simply a cautionary environmental tale, except for the final scene on the space station and the closing credits’ artwork that depicts the re-civilization of earth (actually a quick jaunt through art history too). First and foremost, like a rat chef, it is about humanizing the inhuman through a love story between two nearly voiceless robots. But consumer and environmental concerns to remain, and remain, as they should, in complex fashion. A.O. Scott of The New York Times writes, “Rather than turn a tale of environmental cataclysm into a scolding, self-satisfied lecture, Mr. Stanton shows his awareness of the contradictions inherent in using the medium of popular cinema to advance a critique of corporate consumer culture.”
I frequently find myself wondering what happens or will happen to all this stuff that floods every Wal-Mart and Target every day. Where will it all eventually go? Where is it going now? While the mounds of trash in WALL-E might very well be our future, thanks to the creators at Pixar, it certainly doesn’t have to be.
WALL-E (103 mins) is rated G and is in theaters everywhere.