A Quickie: Wall-E (Some Spoilers)

Just got back from Wall-E. This movie is so sweet almost everyone in the audience cried out when they thought the roach (Wall-E’s bestfriend) was dead, and people who live in roach territory know there is nothing cute about roaches.

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This movie’s premise is a little bit over the top in its execution but not in its point which is simply that the more consumption driven society is the less sustainable our lives will become. The film is replete with other movie references from R2D2 to #5 (short circuit) to Hal (2001), and yes Ripley (Alien/s),and a little E.T. and Terminator too. Though there are no queer people in the imagined future, there are tons of people of color and a robot revolution to boot.

The real story is the amazing resilience and character of little Wall-E and his love story with fellow robot Eve (ee-va). It iswall-e the most adorable relationship I have seen since Drew Barrymore and E.T. Though Eve is more sophisticated and advanced than Wall-E, they are clearly equals in the plot, dependent on each other to ultimately resolve the storyline and keep each other hopeful and on point. His endless innovations to keep up with his work and with her, when all the other trash compactor robots died, is also one of the subtler ways the film brings home the point of recycling. A point which Eve learns from watching him and ultimately uses to save him. I also love that Eve is more than an object of desire.  As she says throughout the film “prime directive” comes first.  She has a mission and she carries it out even leaving Wall-E behind while robot police are looking for them to make sure it happens.  It is a symbiotic story that allows both characters’ strength, intelligence, and goals to shine. And their love affair is set to Hello Dolly, one of my favorite Babs captain_and_evemusicals, a nice subtle comment on class that is otherwise missing in this film.

The messages about kindness and perseverance are particularly strong. Little Wall-E makes friends wherever he goes by simply taking the time out to wave, introduce himself, and help others. As he does so, the people and robots around him start to follow suit. For the humans, that means forming relationships, discovering forgotten abilities, and displaying heroism in both small and large ways. Ultimately it is learned kindness that saves all of them. Several key moments in the film simply show that “each one does their part” and then we can all survive and thrive.

The only part of the film I would criticize was how trigger happy Eve is, including a multiple boat blow up. I like to thinkwall_e_eve that this was a reference to all the violence in summer movies and how pointless it is, but I know that is wishful thinking. There really is no point to her being fitted with a gun and I wish she had not been. I don’t subscribe to the a woman with a gun dismantles gendered stereotypes of weakness/needing protection school of feminism; think it through and you should get why.

The theater was packed. People were audibly invested in the humans and the machines. And no one got up until they were sure the credits were done, even the littlest kids. In fact, no child made a sound during this movie, accept in the “ahh moments,” they were so enthralled. Even the talkers (you know those people who come in on the phone, text through the film with spoilers, and blab to their friends through the whole thing) were quiet except for the communal cries, laughs, and cheers. You know when an audience giggles appreciatively at a roach popping out of a twinkie that Pixar’s film has worked miracles.

After all the shlock I’ve sat through this summer, this film was a blessing.

—-

PS. This film has apparently been criticized for being anti-fat. While parents should definitely go to this film prepared to point out the subtle critique to their children, I think it is important to draw a distinction between critique and insult. Wall-E’s large characters are a critique of our society, most large characters in film and television (especially in Wanted) are malignant insults. While the humans in the film are all overweight sipping their food through straws, the film places the onus not on “lazy humans” but on cultivated consumption and service (robot) dependence. All of the human characters in Wall-E are decent, caring, people who actively work toward change in this film once the link to product induced over consumption is severed. They have romances, leadership positions, and are heroes by film’s end, all characteristics denied larger people in the media daily. Pixar is also so meticulous that it provides both medical and social regions for the humans’ obesity, something they did not have to do to get their point across but b/c they wanted to be sure we got that fat was not the issue.

The characters in Wall-E are not slovenly and desperate for ever increasing portions of food like Fat Bastard from Austin Powers or unbearably obnoxious like the boss in Wanted; there is no character faulting large people for “stuffing their faces” and implying they are willfully ignorant and unwilling to change like the first episode of Dr. Who this season. In keeping with the film’s main critique, these are people who have let corporations lull them into a consumption driven haze that first pollutes the planet beyond habitability and then pollutes the mind and the body. The overscale trash compacting robots in the hull of the ship also point to how a failure to change even after 700 years of evacuation means that they are now polluting the universe. And less we think they are lazy, the film includes a moment when two characters falling in love discover the swimming pool and are promptly sanctioned for using it by a corporate owned robot who knows the water is a threat to his (not human’s) existence.

The villain is not the overweight characters but the corporation whose consumption driven emblems dot the earth, the ship, and even the moon.

14 thoughts on “A Quickie: Wall-E (Some Spoilers)

  1. Hey! I just wrote my review of Wall-E too! Didn’t know we were both going to see this today! Anyway, I didn’t read other reviews to see that some criticized it for being anti-fat. How myopic in viewing it this way.

  2. I think it is one of those being taught to pass the test things; if you don’t learn how to read subtext then it is like it isn’t there.

  3. I saw the movie last night–I had agreed to take a family member to it and wasn’t looking forward to it until I saw your rave, which was very accurate. I hear you on the fat analysis–I mostly agree, because there weren’t any glamorous, more successful thin people used as contrast. Maybe that’s just the effects of living at 0 gravity for 700 years…but I wonder if the movie may perpetuate the stereotype of fat people as intellectually and physically lazy?

  4. I’m glad you liked the movie and despite my conviction in this post I think you are right to re-ask the question about stereotype. Since writing, I read a review by a parent who said that all though she was able to get the messages about consumerism and technology these concepts were way over the head of her child who just saw “lazy fat people.” I’m assuming b/c you went with a child you were also more attuned to the way that younger audience might perceive the film. On my part, I take full responsibility for writing a review from the perspective of a cultural theorist and completely missing the obvious – this is a kids movie and does it translate to kids in a positive way or not.Pixar makes its living off of riding the divide between adult and youth audiences. So I’m left to wonder why they were not more attune to the way fat as “lazy and stupid” would be perceived by its larger, youth, audience and written their critique of that in a more accessible way. Pixar could have made the movie with positive and negative thin and large people in it (just ditching the zero grav info all together). However, I like that the ultimate message is that the large people are real people who save themselves and the planet. Like the Captain he comes across as completely inept at first, but from the beginning he shows his desire to be active in things (complaining that there is only one non-automated thing on the ship and taking great joy in doing it, researching earth, unafraid to look up words he does not know, and fighting down the Hal like computer with his mind and his body) or the couple who falls in love and saves the babies. How could Pixar have done a multi-layered narrative that would translate to children without parental deconstruction? Some of those jokes – like the Pizza plant – could be eliminated. Would it be just a matter of removing the “jokes”?It also does not help that I saw Wanted the day before and the treatment of the large woman character is so egregious as to border on hate speech. I’m tired of the fat stereotype in summer blockbusters and how it is creeping into the most unrelated tv storylines. One does not negate the other however. Parents should definitely go to this movie prepared to point out the subtleties to their kids.

  5. I also enjoyed this movie. I’m glad you pointed out the lack of class analysis – I wondered what happened to the people on the ship when they ran out of money, since there seemed to be no way that they earned any, and yet the whole civilization was driven by consumption. (I also wondered about who got left behind.)I do think the film comes across as anti-fat. In essence, they have reduced the entire population to infants, a point made clear by the images of babies sucking on bottles and of adults sucking on liquid food, both essentially immobilized. The message is clear: eating too much and not moving makes you fat and lazy. Regardless of what else happens in the film, this is the underlying message, and while there are positive, even heroic characters, they are so *despite* their fat.And yes, my six-year-old got this message loud and clear. But it’s a heckuva lot better than something like “Monster House,” I will admit.Sorry to hear that about Wanted – I will cross that off my list.

  6. You know you might have sold me if you had mentioned the “baby steps” moment near the end of the movie which I did find offensive. When the baby’s are drinking from their bottles, the are watching a video about how Buy’N’Large is their “best friend” = the mirrored scene where immobile adults sipping food while Buy’N’Large reminds them of what “good corporate community partners” they are. To me the message is about how corporations shift our social relationships toward corporate loyalty from childhood forward.I don’t think they succeed “despite” being fat, I think they succeed because fat or not they pull away from consumption and technology driven alientation and individualization. Each person who is touched by Wall-E’s kindness makes a distinct shift from consumption to cooperation. Reconnecting saves them.If the point was to vilify fat people then why not have skinny people who were better in the movie? Even if the skinny people were from the past and shown as smart and active and good and then we shift to the present with fat people doing nothing? Why not have them start exercising as part of their enlightment? etc.You, historiann, and others have convinced me that the anti-fat thing is there for kids. And in discussing the disconnect with others in real life, we did note a few moments in the film that clearly play to the “laugh at the fat person” moments: when the guy falls off his mobile seat, the baby steps, the pizza plant, the track joke. These things clearly did not have to be there. Does anyone have ideas/suggestions about how this film could have still had main characters who were large, doing things most “plus size” characters never get to do, AND avoid anti-fat messages to kids? I am not asking in general, I am asking within the confines of this particular plot and its execution.Off Topic slightly – while discussing this film, a friend mentioned a scene in Get Smart where Maxwell Smart catches a large woman on the dance floor and spins her around to the shock and applause of everyone there. It is another example of the blatant anti-fat references that seem to permeate all of the summer blockbuster movies this season. I am curious if these depictions which are much more in your face, and yet receiving very little criticism, are making people more attuned to the ways Wall-E may or may not work into this narrative. I am also curious why there is no concerted effort to criticize these films: Wanted, Get Smart, the Hulk (it has a 3-5 minute scene in Chiapas where Hulk’s butt is compared to a large indigenous woman’s), etc. (I don”t doubt there are fat jokes in the Guru either but I am not planning to watch that.)

  7. I guess, to answer your question about how the film could have had main characters who were large, etc. – first, the film could have had characters who were a range of sizes and shapes. Second, the filmmakers used fat to show the progressive decline of humanity (esp. in the photographs of ever-fatter captains and ever-larger Auto Pilots). But the people don’t need to be fat to reflect the message of the film – they need to have lost muscle and bone mass, and that could have been what the filmmakers chose to portray as the symbol of decline. Though I’m not entirely sure that that does not reinforce negative stereotypes about people with physical disabilities. Why do people’s bodies need to the be the site upon which the film builds its message? (The response, “how else are they gonna do it?” is a fair one. But it’s a troubling issue.)Re. the criticisms of Wall-E vs. the other films you mention – I haven’t seen any of the other films, so I can’t comment on those in particular. When I’ve seen fat-phobic films and written reviews of them, I do comment on those aspects. But a couple of things come to mind – first, I generally expect that kind of thing in mainstream adult films. I also expect it, but am more outraged by it, in films targeted at children. Second, I don’t believe that the intent of this film was to vilify fat people. That’s not the issue. The issue is that the film, despite intent, nevertheless sends a negative message. I think the fat people in Wall-E were fat because of the pervasive “science” that tells us that fat=unhealthy, and that skinny=healthy. This belief is more subtle, and it comes out even when people don’t see themselves as fatphobic. So, the phobia caught my attention because I don’t think it was all that intentional.Note that I’m not calling for a boycott of the movie or anything – I mean, I wish they had done this better, but I think that overall it was a good film. And I am more disappointed when a film I have higher expectations of or that I like gets something like this wrong. It would not surprise me at all if Get Smart or Guru had misogynist, racist scenes in them, and I would be prepared for it if I went. But since I wasn’t aware that there were even any people in Wall-E, my guard was down a little.(Re. the baby steps – oy, that part of the film was just totally ridiculous. If you are immobile for your whole life, and if your bone structure is what it was shown to be in the x-rays, then you can’t get up and walk.)

  8. I don’t disagree with you on most of the points you raise here. I missed the photos of the captains as I was the designated popcorn girl and that is when I chose to go get it, but in talking with my friends later they did mention a line of captain’s photos. It’s clear there are several points we have all marked that are fatphobic and particular from the lens of children. And I would never argue intent trumps content b/c then I’d have to let everyone slide who said “I did not mean it” and I think you know I don’t do that. I was actually arguing that the overall content was designed to make a different argument than fat=bad and that it did so using medical and social reasons for obesity rather than pyschological reasons upon which fatphobia hinges. The more this conversation unfolds the more I see that both are in operation and that is a problem.I do disagree with the idea that kids movies should be held to a different standard of oppression than “adult movies.” I’ve been raked over the coals for my Iron Man review b/c I dared to ask that it not be sexist, racist, or jingoistic (it is surprisingly one of the only films without fatphobia in it that I’ve seen). I think we live in a time where we all know perfectly well what is offensive and what is not, yet the media continues to trade on it. If Fat Bastard becomes one of the major icons of the Austin Power franchise and it makes huge profit than why not have a fat bastard supervisor in Wanted? But if people actually criticize Fat Bastard on a mass scale then maybe the producers of Wanted would never have thought that was ok. See what I am saying?Anyway, I’m glad we are having this conversation not just to bump up the critical eye that I, and possibly others, took to the film but also b/c the movie studios like to stop by here when movies come out. Pixar has never been here, but others have and so maybe it will get to their ears as well. Ultimately, there were several points where critique went out the window and phobia came to play and Pixar shoulld have done a better job and I should have been a better viewer missing the subtle moments for the larger picture is my bad.

  9. I’m a little late to the conversation, but after I saw a pre-release screening, I talked to one of the Pixar guys who worked on the film about this very issue. He’s a fat guy himself, and told me there was a lot of talk at Pixar about this issue. The original portrayal of the humans was more horrific, less humane, and they made a choice to change it, though there are still obviously troubling implications.I’ve heard the director talk several times about his desire to show this “loss of bone and muscle under zero gravity” but of course there is gravity on the ship; how else could they have a pool? Today on Fresh Air he referred to “zero or imperfect gravity.” He also talked about making the choice to portray humans in the revised vision as giant babies, and studying babies to get their limb length and movement right.Anyway, my comments post-screening are here: http://www.fatshionista.com/cms/index.php?option=com_mojo&Itemid=69&p=41I liked the film, but was uncomfortable with the anti-fat message. Sitting in the audience as a fat woman, I cringed when one of the humans fell off his hover chair and laid there rolling around. However, I did like that the humans were positive and kindly, were allowed to be romantic and very lightly sexual (in an appropriate way for a kids’ film) with each other, and in the end take the hard road rather than the easy one.

  10. Oh, and ultimately: I found it heartening to hear that there was a conversation at Pixar anticipating concerns about the portrayal of the humans, and even if it didn’t result in a fatphobia-free-film, it seems to have made some significant improvements. I’m thrilled to know the conversation was treated seriously and not blown off as a joke.

  11. thanks elusis for letting us know their process. As plainsfeminist points out, intent and content have to be looked at separately when there is a disconnect between them. The “making them like babies” thing really concerns me. Again, in my opinion there is a difference between constructive and destructive criticism and I think this conversation has shown that both exist in the film. It’s good to know Pixar is engaged in an ongoing conversation because hopefully they will hear that – they got somethings right and some wrong.

  12. Pingback: Smite Me! » Blog Archive » links for 2009-12-24

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