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Technological Pessimism in Wall-E
Please note that this entry is meant as a post-viewing discussion of the movie. It includes spoilers, so you may not want to read it if you haven't seen the movie.

Like the millions of Disney and Pixar fans out there, I was eagerly anticipating checking out Wall-E in theaters. My general aversion for obnoxiously crowded movie theaters had me waiting until yesterday to check it out. I was engrossed the entire movie, but not at all for the same reasons I enjoyed previous Pixar films. This one was intensely thought provoking and oddly nostalgic. Being immediately hit in the face with a post apocalyptic world full of heavy anti-consumerism messages was quite off putting.

I initially wrote this off as a relatively shameless attempt at cashing in on the current Green craze the world is in. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for preserving the environment. The fact that being a conservationist has become a fashionable endeavor for many just drives me a bit crazy. So, that said, Wall-E didn't start off the greatest for me. The concept of cockroaches and twinkies surviving the apocalypse has been done to death. I expected better of Pixar.

It wasn't until we boarded Eve's ship and got a glimpse of the humans that the movie truly began to hit home for me. While overweight lazy people weren't exactly a shocking turn of events given how the movie began, the setting they were in was. The cruise ship was a utopia of sorts. Beautifully programmed robots helping with every day tasks in a friendly and pleasant way. Extreme relaxation was available for all people on board. I was immediately shot back to my younger days, in which I experienced EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World for the first time.

It was always my favorite park at Disney, meaning I was one of the strange kids that didn't want to spend every waking minute in the Magic Kingdom (well, except for Tomorrowland). The concept of this glorious future brought on infinite excitement in me. That was what I was going to experience when I grew up. It probably played a relatively important role in what I have become today, a computer programmer who enjoys every bit of technology I can get my hands on.

I don't think it's a fluke that this portion of the movie shot me back there. It wouldn't be that out there to presume that the writers and artists who worked on the movie used EPCOT center as an inspiration for the ship. They just chose to focus on the pessimistic view that technology begets laziness. EPCOT Center focused on the much more optimistic thought that technology would bring people of different cultures together in a unified world, as made evident by this beautiful quote from the end of Spaceship Earth.

Since the dawn of recorded time, communication has revolutionized our lives and changed our world. We now have the ability and the responsibility to build new bridges of acceptance and co-operation between us; to create a better world for ourselves and our children as we continue our amazing journey aboard Spaceship Earth.

So why is a completely different message presented in Wall-E? I've read several reviews of the movie that express the importance of sending the pessimistic message to the youth of today, one going as far as to point out that they will probably have to clean up our mess anyway. I can't help but wonder whether or not this is the best way of sending the message. While the adult viewers of the movie can easily take it as a warning, I worry that children may instead take it as a damnation of technology in general, and thus be effected in the exact opposite way I was as an EPCOT Center visitor way back when.

That said, does the fact that technology is ingrained in today's youth in a way that was not possible when I was a kid change the values in the equation a bit? Is this fear based warning important? Wall-E's blissful ignorance could be seen as a direct parallel of a young child, thus inferring that children will show us the way. Why do I feel like that great message is overshadowed by this anti-technology undertone?

There is no way the human race would really be that stupid if they had to leave Earth. That cruise ship would have included glorious parks for people to walk and play in. There would be experimental greenhouses full of amazing agriculture techniques like the ones showcased in Living with the Land, another EPCOT ride. While people would definitely miss blue skies and glorious mountains, they would find a way to continue to eat wonderful vegetables and livestock. This is the kind of optimism that should be passed on to future generations.

With movies like this, threats are used to make a point. If we don't change our ways now, the world will end! Do you teach, or plan to teach your kids by threatening them with a belt if they do anything wrong? No, you want to entice them into being good with the promise of great results. At what point did we move away from the grand optimism of EPCOT Center and towards shallow fear mongering tactics?

One final note on the movie:
I ended up enjoying the movie quite a bit, thanks to the optimistic end and overall love story, so don't take this as a damnation of the film as a whole. It ended up doing a great job of stressing the importance of appreciating what we have on the planet right now. I just wish it didn't create all these thoughts in me while I was on the journey.
By Mike on July 1, 2008 at 4:33pm EDT Topic(s): wall-e technology epcot movies pixar disney animation

Comments
Starfish I had a very similar reaction when we met humans in Wall-E. One person I saw the film with said "yes! that's exactly what would happen to people!" and I wanted to scream "No way!" I have too much faith in humanity and the desire of humans to keep pushing themselves further than to believe we'd all turn into fat infants the minute we were given robots to do all our mundane tasks. People actually ENJOY working out, sports, active play, learning, growing; these drives don't just disappear. Overall I felt the message was a bit heavy-handed in the film. That being said, I still admired the message that we must take care of our planet and ourselves.

My favorite part of the film (SPOILERS!) was before we left earth. I loved LOVED Wall-E's home and his favorite entertainment and his daily routine. And I really loved the relationship between he and Eve. Oh man... how about that dance scene to Hello, Dolly... BRILLIANT!

You know what REALLY reminded me of a Disney ride more than anything? The live action videos shown of the CEO of BnL, they had this strange quality that felt like they were plucked straight off a ride. Maybe they are planning a Wall-E attraction for The Land pavilion to replace the Lion King show... that'd be pretty sweet actually... speaking of that Lion King show... that was very similar in that it was pessimistic at first and then completely turned around at the end to say "we're doing great! we can do more!" and I think that's what saved Wall-E's message for me, too.
7/1/2008 at 4:48pm EDT
Mike (Spoilers here too, but this whole post is marked for them so I hope that's not a surprise.)

I think my favorite scene (combination) was when Eve went in lock down and Wall-E still took her on dates and what not. Combine that with Eve watching her security footage and I think it was pretty touching.

Also, I agree with the live action bits seeming very ride like, and that's where I think it hit home the most. In Disney World, the optimism of the actors in those types of things was sincere, while here it was meant to make them look conniving and money grubbing.... it just didn't sit well with me.
7/1/2008 at 4:54pm EDT
fruehdom Hey guys, so I'm about two months late to this party, but I finally saw Wall-E tonight, and I really loved it. I understand your complaints, but I think you are taking way to literal a view of the story. It's a fairy tale after all, and to make the story work, it has to be big. I think the humans on the cruise ship had to be the way they were, or else their change at the end wouldn't have been as dramatic. I think the problem with us is that we are too sensitive to anything portraying technology (or video games for that matter) in a bad light.

However...if you want to take a literal interpretation of the story, I have a bigger gripe than the fact that humans were all blobs. If these robots were as intelligent as they were...why keep the humans around at all? Its not like they were powering the ship with their body heat like the Matrix. I'm pretty sure the HAL9000 steering wheel would have turned into SkyNet a long time ago and exterminated all humans.

How about that for a cautionary tale: kids, stop using your computer...not because it will make you fat, but because someday it may become self aware and try to kill you. Consider yourself warned.
9/7/2008 at 12:25am EDT
Starfish Hahaha. Yeah, actually, after reading an interview with Andrew Stanton about what he was thinking when developing the story and the themes, it seemed like he was more concerned with getting the theme of relationships across than the heavy-handed environmentalism, anti-computer one that I seemed to get smacked over the head with. And if I look at the movie that way, I like it a lot more. I can see where he was coming from in trying to tell the story, anyways.

I think the computers in Wall-E didn't take over because they had one directive, and it wasn't to protect the humans so they didn't have to kill them all, haha. So yay for that :P
9/7/2008 at 3:53pm EDT
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