Disney Pixar’s “WALL-E”; Breathtaking, Maddening

Disney Pixar\'s WALL-E

Disney Pixar's WALL-E

Gennady Stolyarov over on the Mises site blogs about the latest feat of filmmaking from Disney Pixar, “WALL-E”. He’s really up in arms about it due to it’s heavy-handed environmental and anti-capitalist messages, and I agree with him as far as it goes. But he misses the fundamentally anti-state, pro-freedom heart of the film.

The Bad
The film opens on a scene of literally unbelievable environmental devastation caused, we are left no doubt, by humans, particularly those patronizing and working for a giant mega-retailer “Buy N Large”, which actions have apparently filled the spaces in between city skyscrapers with stupendous piles of refuse. There is no life apparent here, and no movement at all except the busy movements of a small, solitary trash-compacting robot.

The scene is literally thousands of times worse than the direst man-made global warming predictions we have heard, which is to say the planet in camera, obviously Earth, has degraded so completely that there is not only no life, but no water and, as we see later, no weather of any kind save for periodic apocalyptic dust storms.

For the first third of the movie, the filmgoer is constantly bombarded with evidence of how the hubristically-operated WalTargCostCo proxy destroyed the earth, without any clue whatsoever about how such a thing could have got so much power as to not only evade existing environmental law (itself an abrogation of property rights), but the universal, longstanding moral repulsiveness of resource waste of such a magnitude. The filmmakers want us to believe that somehow, between now and the time that anthropogenic global warming manifests itself, mankind will suddenly abandon its native environmentalism and go off the deep end, prior to abandoning the planet entirely for B-N-L’s gigantic interstellar cruise ship.

The Good

Having condemned the message of the opening scenes, we are dumbstruck by the sheer visual majesty of the film. Earth might be a despoiled wasteland, but here Pixar renders it in magnificent, visually-stunning, realistic detail. When we are shown the blasted landscape and the terrifying dust storms, we can almost believe what we are seeing is real, quite a feat and another giant leap for Pixar, and digital filmmaking in general.

We observe the robot moving about the city performing his obviously programmed task, curiously selecting random discarded objects and saving them prior to gathering up, compacting, and stacking the surrounding dross into piles bigger than the biggest skyscrapers. The robot, WALL-E is seen later to be collecting not just objects at random, but useful spares, and, establishing that he possesses artificial intelligence, objects he values subjectively. One particularly pivotal object he finds, inside an old refrigerator, is a plant seedling of some kind, which he carefully excavates and preserves.

When a huge spaceship lands in WALL-E’s neighborhood, his curiosity overcomes his rudimentary sense of prudence and he observes the disembarking of a gleaming white levitating ovoid robot with intense interest. He is almost obliterated seconds later when the newcomer discharges its extremely powerful sidearm (Hooray Second Amendment!) upon observing movement at a distance it interprets as a threat. Several discharges later, WALL-E manages to convince the newcomer that he is no threat.

Subsequently, the two robots engage in what I would describe as a “testing – learning” interaction, where one engages in a symbolic movement or makes a sound, then waits for a response (anyone who has interacted with small children will immediately understand this). The testing and responses lead to each of them telling the other their name, the newcomer is called Eve, which WALL-E pronounces “Eve-a”.

WALL-E invites Eve to his home, which appears to be the immobile, rusted hulk of a much larger model of his type (apparently WALL-E has wired up the access door to some solar panels). When he shows her the plant, she immediately puts it in an inner storage compartment and shuts down, clearly she has been sent to earth for this purpose, since a green plant icon begins to grow on her smooth surface. WALL-E tries to communicate with the now-dormant newcomer, until her ship returns to pick her up. WALL-E hitches a ride, and we discover that Eve was indeed a probe, sent out by the B-N-L mega-cruiser to determine whether Earth is habitable again

Without giving the entire plot away, WALL-E and Eve, along with the titular captain of the mega-liner Axiom discover that something is amiss with the ostensible plan to recolonize the earth, and overcome their programming to do what is right, versus what is their “duty”.

The Maddening
The plot, particularly near the end of the film lurches wildly between heroic and ridiculous. The doughy, decalcified denizens of the Axiom are completely detached from reality, their relationships all virtual, their needs all attended to by specialized robots (one is left to wonder how the doughy, decalcified offspring depicted are produced). This is particularly maddening because the overwhelming tendency of humans whose economic needs are met is to seek more direct contact with others, not less. The captain, as indolent as the rest, has somehow not previously even had a little bit of curiousity about the Earth and the past.

Ultimately, however, it is a brilliant and satisfying film, with a fundamentally anti-state, pro-liberty message, and I recommend it highly, particularly younger ones (my 2 1/2 year old daughter and 4 year old son were enthralled the entire time, perfect angels). If you take a child over 5 years old, however, PLEASE discuss these points with them afterward!


3 Responses to “Disney Pixar’s “WALL-E”; Breathtaking, Maddening”

  1. July 6, 2008 at 9:20 am


    I have seen the movie also but I didn’t find it maddening. It’s some sort of a springboard for reflection… particularly on the negative side of capitalism and on the need to protect the environment. Thus, I see the movie as a must-see for everyone both children and adults alike. But as you said, these points should not be discussed with children at least those below ten years old. :D

  2. 2 joepulcinella
    July 6, 2008 at 10:26 am

    It’s a shame I read Mises. I would have liked to have seen this film as I think the people at Pixar are incredibly talented and creative. However, I know I will now view it through the eyes of a rational adult. :o(

  3. July 14, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    It was a great movie, with obvious emphasis on global warming and even american cultuire.

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