The Wall-E trailer did not impress me. It made the film look cute and trite. Nonetheless, I was convinced to see the film by strong recommendations in various news sources and ongoing debates about its environmental messages.
The film is definitely well done: engaging and entertaining, emotive without being sappy. Some of the messages are indisputable: that resilience is a virtue (Wall-E has learned self-repair), that the planet is vulnerable, and that technology can isolate us from natural processes, making us unaware of the impacts we are collectively producing. Others are more dubious: that people ignore their environmental impacts because they are half-hypnotized by machines, rather than because it is convenient to do so, or that a simple imposition of will is sufficient to turn things around. The danger is less that robots will mutiny, and much more that we will be willing to make exceptional ecological sacrifices in order to keep our favourite machines running. It’s not that our creations will defy our will, it’s that we will refuse to temper our desires, whatever the long-term costs associated. Wall-E does make the second point (largely though the vehicle of the floating, near-helpless humans), but it gives a bit too much of a free pass on the first.
It seems fairly likely that this film is destined for the cannon of ‘environmental films for children,’ alongside stalwarts like The Lorax. It deserves the slot, combining old messages about conservation and the sanctity of life with the imagery of contemporary society. It also deserves to be widely seen, by children and adults. That is as much on account of the strong storytelling as anything else – the dialogue is minimal, but it is never the slightest bit tedious. The story is strong, the film is beautifully made, and it generates thought.
On a side note: the various nods to Apple were slightly amusing, rather than tacky. Wall-E’s startup noise will be familiar to anyone who has used a Mac, as is the whole styling of Eve. The original iMac ‘mice’ infesting the garbage heaps in space were also an entertaining touch. Of course, it is a bit ironic that the main object of desire in the film – the robot Eve that Wall-E pines after – is fundamentally modeled upon a much hyped consumer product.
[Update: 8:01am] Emily’s review is here.