Hello, Wall-E

From the moment I heard his irritating voice in a movie trailer, I knew I would hate Wall-E. However, as it was evident the movie was practically made for our Geek-In-Training, Eldest Weed, it was equally clear I was going to see it. After reading it was a Bush-bashing green-fest, I told EW we'd have to wait for DVD, because I ain't payin' that much money for Al-Gore praisin'/ Bush bashin'. He had to admit that was reasonable.

I caved. It was peer pressure. First ninme assured me it wasn't a Bush-basher in spite of one line. Then three other moms in our kids' circle sold me out and took their kids last night and their positive reviews re-started the begging. And it's hot. What pushed me over the edge, though, was the Weedlets wanted to go so badly they did all their chores plus a few extra plus piano practice without complaining in time to make the first matinee. (If you think my expectations about how long these things take haven't adjusted accordingly, you underestimate me.)

We'll get to my reaction, but first, since the Conservative blogosphere is dishing up mixed opinions on how offensively green and corporation-bashing Wall-E is, here are the unalloyed reactions of the various Weedlets when asked --fresh from the flick and out of earshot of each other-- what the movie's message was.
  • Eldest Weed (11-yr-old boy), who predictably loved it: Don't let one corporation take over everything, and don't be afraid of hard work --it's actually good for you.
  • Rose Among Thorns (9-yr-old girl), who gives it an 8: Don't turn your life over to robots.
  • 7-yr-old boy (who liked, not loved, it): Clean up after yourself.
  • 4-yr-old boy (who says he loved it but seemed bored whenever I looked over at him) frowning: I don't wememboh.
So if it is green propaganda, it's not the most effective sort. It might even be anti-propaganda, actually. The premise is that Earth has been temporarily abandoned so that it can be cleaned and rendered inhabitable again. Am I the only one who noticed, however, that as we pan the endless junked up wastescapes of earth, one of the items they're most filled with is those eco-windmills we're supposed to get carbon credits for? And the big corporation that bolluxes everything up is the one responsible for cleaning up the earth? The plot complication comes not because the corporation is corrupt or wicked per se; it has been ceded too much power and has no capacity to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. Seems like a critique of at least the carbon credit form of environmentalism in favor of a more wholesome "stewardship" approach. If I were Al Gore, I wouldn't be pleased.

What's being widely read as a critique of consumerism is likewise a bit more subtle than it's being given credit for. The movie seems to delight in some of our useless junk. Much of it --notably bubble wrap-- actually get loving treatment. It's anti-bacterial virtual reality where life is fully automated and no dirt need ever enter our lives that gets "the treatment." The film itself is interesting and alive on trashy earth, and gets as boring as the couch potato existence it portrays on the spaceship Axiom. There is more genuine beauty and interest on the trashed earth than in the spaceship paradise (and Wall-E's first encounter with E.V.E. is a genuine "here at last is bone of my bone" moment of self-discovery). The message seems to be that real life gets messy --even very messy--, but it's preferable to the utterly sanitized alternative.

At that level it reminded me of Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos. I haven't read it in years, but I recall that at the end as a thought experiment he has the reader make a choice. Earth is subsumed in nuclear holocaust. You can hide out in a cave in Kentucky where you will survive, but your only companions will be human beings horribly crippled or mutated by the blast. Or you can colonize the moon with a couple of Bunnies (yes, those kind). I can't say how he does it, but he makes you earnestly prefer real life with mutants than "the perfect life." Similarly [spoiler alert], the people here learn to prefer a difficult life on an "uninhabitable" Earth than virtual reality that's literally pie in the sky.

Wow, I've actually talked myself into liking Wall-E more than I in fact did. (I got bored.) But I defend it from the charge of being a Pixar sell-out. I think perhaps we Conservatives have grown so touchy on the subject of the environment we're having trouble seeing it's not the real point of this story.

Update: This evening when I was trying to concentrate on something else, I kept thinking about Wall-E instead, and how the "green" theme really isn't there, except as a metaphor. It isn't greenhouse gases that have poisoned the earth, and the junk we see isn't primarily cars, it's just "stuff." Rubber duckies, Rubix cubes, etc. Lileks agrees with me about that:
for heaven’s sake it’s a parable. Any civilization capable of interstellar travel isn’t going to be done in by excess trash. They can warp it out or blast it. The products of consumption society are the things that give Wall-E’s life meaning, just as the empty pursuit of consumption is the flaw that saps meaning from the lives of the survivors. It’s a matter of perspective.
He also found beauties in the flick that make me like it retrospectively even more. In the end, I think I just can't be that moved by an animated film, even if it's beautiful. Probably a personal shortcoming. Curtsy: ninme.

Update 2: Welcome blogged readers. Since there are new readers, I'll indulge myself in an additional point. Is Wall-E a pro-life movie? In comments we explore the creation, Adam & Eve theme:
Wall-E lives in peace and harmony in a world created for him (it's a trashed earth to us, but since he's a trash compactor...) He has dominion over the "garden," and shapes it to his will. He has companions (a video, various "treasures," a cockroach...) but no fit partner to share his paradise. As I mentioned, the moment he sees Eve, it really is a "here at last" moment, and somehow this cartoon manages to give the scene true emotional content. The subsequent scenes in which he shows her all the delights of his home are sweet too.
Later it occurred to me (for a film that bored me, it stuck with me!) E.V.E. looks like an egg. Wall-E "plants" (heh) new life in her and she goes kind of dormant for awhile as he protects her and she devotes all her energy to protecting the life within her. (The glowing of the plant inside her was sort of reminiscent of a sonogram, no?) Then the two of them struggle to protect the life within her while the powers that be labor to deny that what is obviously life is life, to avoid the consequences. In an interview with World magazine, the filmmaker discusses what he was trying to do. His interviewer concludes:
In fact, if Stanton criticizes people for anything, it's for worship of leisure. Because they live to be cared for rather than to care, the few human beings WALL•E meets have become, to use Stanton's words, giant babies—literally feeding on milk rather than solid food. In contrast, WALL•E, the meek little trash collector, accepts stewardship in a way that people have rejected. And because love springs from service, he comes to love the creatures that inhabit Earth. That's not an environmental message, it's a biblical one.
See, it is very "theology of the body."