There are a lot of reasons to like WALL-E. It’s a beautiful film, and one that highlights Pixar’s rare ability to make a film with almost universal appeal. The production team remembers that “family film” doesn’t mean the same thing as “kid’s movie,” and creates something parents will enjoy rather than simply tolerate. Pixar is also uncompromising with the overall vision for the film, making a number of risky choices that pay off. That said, it’s also a film with big commercial appeal. They are a studio who realizes success comes from bold risks.
As a film, WALL-E’s success lives or dies on the appeal of the main character. WALL-E is onscreen almost continually, and he barely speaks. And yet, he has been infused with so much personality that the audience is transfixed by him for the whole running time. In the future, robots have more personality than humans do; personality that comes out of the functions they were built with. This semi-sentience is handled brilliantly, as simple fact rather than as miracle or global disaster.
Speaking of global disasters, WALL-E also shows a chilling version of the future. The initial view of Earth as a gigantic garbage dump is frightening, being slowly revealed as we watch WALL-E work. This isn’t a complex message, but it’s well-aimed to the audience of children: the result of our wasteful culture could destroy the world. When we finally do meet the humans, the image is even more disturbing. Massively obese people float around on chairs, their eyes taken up by screens held close to their faces. Their hearing is absorbed by electronics that connect them to the world around them, both their friends and advertising. Perhaps most scary is the fact that it’s all run by a giant corporation called BnL, which dominates the sickly sweet, Wal-Mart future. The humans are reduced to raw consumerism, a captive market from birth to death. I’m not sure how much of this young kids will get, but it’s a far more ambitious message than I’ve seen in most animated features.
In a summer packed full of heroic adventures, the most compelling superhero may end up being its most unassuming: a cute little trash compacting robot named WALL-E. This is a film that all North American families should experience together, both for the joy of watching the film, and the meaningful discussions that will come out of its timely message.