The other day I bought a newspaper at Publix and told the cashier I didn’t need a bag. When he didn’t hear me and put it in a plastic bag anyway, I didn’t think too much of it, because, what’s one more, right? But after seeing Pixar’s newest animated feature Wall-E, I’m starting to think that my decision to use that one plastic bag will one day destroy Earth as we know it.
Okay, I didn’t guilt trip that badly. But director Andrew Stanton’s vision of the Earth 700 years from now is bleak, and certainly not out of the realm of possibility. I immediately feared that it would be one of those dreaded “message films.” You know, like Crash, which blew hot air for two hours and oh-so-subtly told us that racism is bad and we’re all racist so we’re all bad but have opportunity for change but not really oh and also the gun shot blanks. But hey, that won an Oscar, so what do I know?
ANYWAY, Wall-E fortunately transcends the base levels of those message films by using the barren wasteland of Earth not to guilt-trip viewers but to provide a new, blank canvas for hope, for change, and for inspiration, starting with the individual and extending outward.
Wall-E itself is the cutest creation ever put to CGI and onto a film screen ever. Let me just get that out of the way, because it had to be said. Whether he’s rehearsing his Hello Dolly routine or using a fire extinguisher to rocket through space or even just pronouncing his name, you’ll melt for him as quickly as he melts for EVE, his iPod-looking love interest.
While humans have fled Earth on the intergalactic cruise ship Axiom, literally on auto-pilot to the point of bone loss and morbid obesity, Wall-E and his cockroach are the sole occupants on Earth until EVE arrives in search of plant life for the possibility of recolonization. With few words outside of pronouncing their names, the blossoming love story is a thing of beauty, at once an amalgamation of old Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and even Woody Allen romances. A simple gaze shared between Wall-E and EVE has more romantic resonance than any hackneyed speech in a lame Ashton Kutcher/Cameron Diaz rom-com borefest.
Balancing out the terseness of the robots are some choice actors to play the humans, including Fred Willard as the CEO of Buy & Large, a Wal-Martish conglomerate that took over the world and probably caused its destruction in one way or another, and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s brilliant Jeff Garlin as the captain of the Axiom, leading the charge back towards this mythical planet Earth, with its hoedowns and pizza plants.
The message of Wall-E isn’t anything radically new. But more importantly, it isn’t shoved down our throats. Underlying the rally for humans to wake up and take action are the importance and the beauty of simple relationships, be it robot-to-robot or human-to-human, or some combination of those two. The fact that Earth might just be okay in 700 years is just one of the added bonuses of a brilliant narrative and the gosh-darn cutest hand holding you will ever see.