I Heart Robots

**This post contains minor spoilers**

I have been excited about the newest installment in the Disney/Pixar juggernaut for about a year. Last June, my theater opened Ratatouille, Brad Bird’s masterpiece about a rat who wants to be a chef. A preview of WALL-E came attached to Reel 1 of that film, and because Ratatouille played at the theater for seven weeks, I saw it at least 100 times. Now, as the title of this post suggests, I go gaga for all things robotic, cybernetic, artificially intelligent and so on. This might explain my undying affection for Darth Vader and Cylons…although not Commander Data for some reason. Too pasty perhaps? I digress.

So, I spent the whole year more or less wound up about WALL-E. I mean, he’s too cute right? This robot’s got personality, and even though he’s a big hunk of metal, he’s easy to love.

Which, for a movie like this, is a must. There isn’t much dialogue, so connecting with these robotic characters relies heavily the audience interpreting their body language. Which brings me to point number one about this film. The animation is mind-blowing. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but the wide shots of the abandoned Earth are breathtaking, both visually and emotionally. And the details of WALL-E’s life on Earth are so meticulously crafted in the script and executed in the animation, that it’s impossible not to feel like this more or less mute robot is an individual with a personality. Enter EVE, the love interest of the story. EVE is sleek, rounded, and, well…deadly. Of course, it’s love at first sight.

Which brings me to my only gripe about the film, which is actually pretty similar to my main gripe over one of Pixar’s other films, Monsters, Inc. Why so heterosexist? I didn’t notice this at first, but my wife mentioned it, and she’s right. This is a story about robots. Do they have to be a boy and a girl? Could they not be a touch more androgynous? Robots, in the WALL-E universe anyway, don’t need to exchange genetic material to reproduce. Why do they need a sex? I suppose that a lot of humans are only in their comfort zone when boys and girls are in love, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I’m not suggesting a film about blatantly gay robots (although that would be awesome!) but perhaps in a film about robots in love, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to suggest that love comes in more than one variety. Monster’s, Inc. presented a similar quandry–maybe not heterosexism so much as just sexism. In a film in which the male main characters are a giant technicolor yeti and a green walking eyeball, the female monster is a svelte, busty, sex pot. So even female monsters are subjected to impossible standards of beauty. Remember that Boo. Remember that.

Moving on.

The strength of this movie is that it’s way more than eye candy. I think most viewers have come to expect this of Pixar. And I should note here that some of my favorite films are from Pixar, but I don’t love everything they’ve done. Cars was pretty limp for me. And I wasn’t as bowled over by Toy Story as the rest of the world seemed to be. Finding Nemo was a good film, but didn’t resonate with me they way Brad Bird’s contributions to Pixar’s oeuvre have. So I don’t go into a Pixar film expecting greatness. Because while the animation is always outstanding, not all of the stories have been. And they set the bar pretty high with last year’s smash hit Ratatouille. So WALL-E was poised to take quite a fall if it wasn’t a grand slam.

But it is. At it’s heart, this film about robots is about making human connections, and how existence is vacant without them. Of course the film examines this on an individual scale through the characters of WALL-E and EVE, but it also expands outwards and looks at the remainder of humanity, whose connections to one another have vanished as robots tend their every need and whose connection to home, to Earth, has been severed as well. So the film asks us, what happens when we lose our connection to our home? What happens when we are no longer able to engage with our fellow human beings? What happens when we absolve ourselves of our responsibilities to our planet and to one another? The answer in the film is extreme, but it’s worth thinking about.

And while the movie makes you think, it also acknowledges its space opera heritage usually in hilarious fashion. Sigourney Weaver voices the ship’s computer as a shout out to Alien and Aliens (two of the best films ever made), and AUTO, the ship’s auto pilot celebrates everyone’s favorite overbearing AI, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I don’t want to give too much away, but every sci-fi fan should see this film. Sci-fi imagines our future, specifically influenced by science and technology, and even though WALL-E is a G rated cartoon, it’s also excellent sci-fi.

A few people I’ve talked to have said that they didn’t think kids would enjoy this film–that it was too adult, too hard to follow–that without dialogue, kids wouldn’t get it. But the whole point of WALL-E is that connecting with other people and with the world at large is about paying attention–being engaged. And if viewers are engaged, regardless of their age, they’ll get it. Because the language of this film is the primal and universally understood language of physical expression. And kids get that. And I’m not just speculating here. Nearly 1000 kids have seen WALL-E since it opened at my theater. And judging by their smiling faces and frequent promises to return for a second viewing, they’re loving it!

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3 Responses

  1. Good day!,

  2. You want gay robots, have a look at CP30 from Star Wars. Why should pixar cater for that type of thing? They feminised EVE to provide a more “romantic” sort of relationship. With two non-gender robots, viewers would probably regard it as more of a friendship, which would change the storyline.

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