Every time I see a preview for a Pixar movie, I think, “Oh, no, this is the one they’re finally going to botch…” A rat who wants to be a chef? Yuck. Bigshot racecar lost on Route 66? Uh-oh, aren’t they going to make the hicks the joke? Talking toys? I dunno. Ants, grasshoppers, and a bug war? Didn’t “Antz” do that storyline? And so on.
But I’ve been wrong every time. Happily, very wrong.
I saw the first teaser previews for “Wall-E” last year. Oh, great, evil humans ruin the planet stuff. Lots of stupid, fat consumers. Only solution is to get all the humans off the planet. This doesn’t look good.
And, as usual, I was really wrong.
*WARNING* MOVIE SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT: YOU REALLY SHOULD GO SEE THIS MOVIE!
(If you’re still reading and haven’t seen the movie, it’s your own fault… although, with Pixar, it isn’t necessarily the ending that entertains but how they get there.)
Ok, so you’ve got this pathetic little robot working to clean up the planet. He’s the last one left, and still working after hundreds of years. Over time, he’s apparently developed a personality. And then a spaceship lands and Eva arrives. Wall-E falls in love. He follows her home, to the spaceship where all the humans are waiting for Earth to be inhabitable again. The humans float around in lounge chairs all day, growing fatter and fatter, oblivious to anything much past the viewscreens in front of their faces, while the robots do everything. In his adventures through the ship, Wall-E livens things up for machines and humans alike. Before everything is over, Wall-E and Eva save the day, the robots trying to thwart the humans’ return to Earth are defeated, and Eva saves Wall-E.
But what’s the point?
When Hollywood does environmental disaster, it’s always, “Oh, those evil people!” (did you see “Happy Feet”? If you didn’t, count yourself lucky. It used a lot of pop music for the penguins’ “heart songs”. Personally, I don’t consider “I Wanna Sex You Up” to be an appropriate song to include in a “kid” movie. But that’s just me…) There’s never any real solution to the disaster, just guilt over having caused it. Think “Pocahontas” singing about painting with “all the colors of the wind.” Oooh, those evil white guys with guns ruining the peaceful Native Americans’ forest and scaring the animals! Unless you’re one of the heroic animals or part of the approved ethnic minority in touch with nature… well, you’re just out of luck.
“Wall-E” was different. “Ratatouille” got the kids (and me) excited about actually trying to cook up some ratatouille (very yummy… but they aren’t kidding when they say you have to peel the eggplants and tomatoes; all that simmering makes the skins curl up and get tough). “Cars” had the husband and me discussing the idea of taking a Route 66 roadtrip vacation when the kids are a little older. I left “Wall-E” eager to go dig in the garden and tackle some heavier reading projects I’d put off. Why? Because the ending of Wall-E was all about personal responsibility, man’s need to work, the danger of letting technology go too far, the dangers of permanent vacation and excessive consumption… and I’m sure y’all could find a few more themes here.
Onboard the humans’ escape ship, the Axiom, one of Wall-E’s first effects is to bumble into a few of the floating louge chairs, dislodging their occupants and turning off their view screens. John and Mary are very nice to Wall-E and very surprised to discover that they’ve been sitting next to a gorgeous pool deck or that there’s an incredible view of the stars out the window; they’ve never actually turned off the view screens before. It seems that the people didn’t try to get this lazy, it just sort of… happened. They’re all very *nice*, but not very happy.
The “five year vacation while Earth gets cleaned up” from the piles of trash resulting from excessive consumerism became a seven hundred year permanent vacation that everyone has been bored of for a long, long, time. The Buy ‘N’ Large company is just everywhere, ready to supply their every need, right down to drinkable cake to celebrate the 700 year anniversary of leaving Earth (all food is delivered in cups with straws). Even babies are made and raised by the company… “A. A is for the Axiom, your home. B. B is for Buy’N’Large, your best friend…” intones the teacher robot to a roomfull of toddlers floating in baby lounge chairs.
After a bit of real human interaction, some splashing in the pool, and an eye-opening view of the stars, though, Mary and John step up and save a bunch of babies when the chaos starts, while everyone else just flops helplessly, dumped out of their chairs.
The Captain finally gets off his chair (like everyone else on board, he’s never actually walked) and defeats the Autopilot, who, for the humans’ “best interests” is trying to keep them from going back to Earth. The Captain’s first sign of personality is a complaint to “Auto” earlier in the movie that, “But this is the only thing I get to do! Nobody on this ship ever gets to do anything!” He finally decides that he will NOT sit back and do what Auto tells him anymore. The Captain takes charge and the humans go home, even though he has found out that Earth is a mess and is going to need a lot of work.
The movie ends just after the Axiom returns to Earth. The ending credits start with a cave painting of the event, followed by increasingly complex art showing the humans’ return. The robots, redirected, plant seeds… but so do the toddlers, throwing seed with happy abandon. People and robots rediscover art, music, and the joy of just watching a bird sing in the tree. Everyone works. After seven hundred years of pointless vacation with no influence, no responsibility, no duties… everyone looks a lot happier fixing buildings and digging crops.
Deep down, I think we know this rings true. Consumerism doesn’t fulfill. Everyone needs “just a little bit more” to be really happy. We gripe about what we read in the paper, but we rarely do anything. Books and articles keep popping up detailing the almost complete disappearance of clubs and organizations that got people out and doing stuff together. We rely on technology to do almost everything for us, including interact with other people. Science only asks, “Can we?” and almost never asks, “Should we?”, and very few people are demanding an answer to that second question, because the answer might be inconvenient.
So put back the extra stuff, buy just what you really needed, and walk out of the store. Take your kids to the park instead. Sit under a tree and read a book. Write your congressman about an issue that’s been bugging you. Bake some bread yourself, just to say, “Hey, I know how that works.” Go take a class or join a club and meet some new people.
And get up and go plant something!