I have seen plenty of “end-of-the-world” movies featuring various scenarios of destruction, but Pixar’s “WALL-E” (2008) is one of the few that truly scared me into thinking this could happen. The computer animated film features a small robot left to clean up the mess left by humanity centuries after they abandoned Earth on a spaceship that serves the same purpose as Noah’s ark. Only it was not a flood of water that wrecked the planet, but a mountain of trash that humanity mass-produced since the beginning of the Industrial Revolutions. Zombies don’t exist, aliens have yet to invade us, Global Warming may or may not boil us in the near future, but a massive pile of trash burying the planet? That’s happening right now.
Directed by Andrew Stanton, “WALL-E” was part of the great summer movie season of 2008, which featured the return of Indiana Jones, the Academy-Award winning performance of Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” and the rebirth of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Younger audiences were also covered with Pixar’s annual release, but like all of their movies “WALL-E” also has some big ideas for grown-ups. I was very eager to see those big ideas, even though at the time I was in Quebec City and the movie theatres didn’t have an original English version. However the first half of the movie practically has no dialogue, so in this case it didn’t really matter. Plus I was busy with a summer job I didn’t really like so any escapism was welcome.
The opening shots of “WALL-E” reveal planet Earth covered with mountains of trash surrounded by smog. Alone in this landscape is a Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class, a robot with very expressive eyes and the ability to express itself with many squeaks and beeps. WALL-E’s job is simple: he fills his square belly with trash and spits out a compacted package. He has built skyscrapers with these blocks. The last of his kind, WALL-E only has a cockroach for a companion and spends his quiet evenings watching a VHS recording a “Hello, Dolly.”
His uneventful existence is forever changed when a massive ship arrives to Earth, nearly crushing him. Out of the ship comes EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a flying robot sent to Earth to evaluate living conditions. WALL-E is immediately smitten. EVE looks as though the best designers at Apple designed her: sleek, egg-shaped, with a gleaming white exterior, and armed with a plasma cannon. If WALL-E and EVE were human, WALL-E would be a geeky romantic man and EVE would be a strong beautiful woman. WALL-E even attempts to date her by taking her to his house and giving him a tour of the place during a sand storm.
Things actually go pretty smoothly until EVE accomplishes her mission and finds a single plant in the wasteland, proving life is once again sustainable on Earth. Her ship then picks her up and returns her to the mother ship, the Axiom, with WALL-E as a stowaway. The passengers aboard the ship are an interesting bunch. The last remnants of humanity, they travel by using anti-gravity chairs and rely on an army of robots for the most basic tasks. Their lifestyle has made all of them morbidly obese, like the any individual confined to a wheelchair and living off McDonald’s menu.
Despite being robots, WALL-E and EVE are much more compelling than the entire crew of the Axiom. Of the few humans in the film, there is Jeff Garlin as the ship’s captain and in a nice reference to the science-fiction genre, Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the ship’s computer. The shape and behavior of said computer is very reminiscent of HAL 2000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey and also has a will of its own.
Despite their limited vocabulary WALL-E and EVE are a great on-screen couple. One the film’s best scene is when they dance outside the ship’s engines, with the expanse of space in the background.
I don’t know if writers Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon were trying to create a great children’s movie, a new science-fiction classic, or even a romantic story, but for me this is a cautionary tale. If we continue to mass-produce, well, anything, we will end up buried neck deep in our own possessions. We may all be dead and gone one day and all that remains will be WALL-E and his cockroach. That, and possibly Keith Richards.