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Wall-E is an eco-dystopian gem — an anti-consumption movie (from Disney!)

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"Wall-E is an eco-dystopian gem — an anti-consumption movie (from Disney!)"

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wall-e-command.jpgDisney/Pixar’s new hit Wall-E is easily one of the best movie dystopias ever. It ranks with Blade Runner, Brazil, A Clockwork Orange, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, and the first two Terminator movies.

Yes, Hollywood loves dystopias. Perhaps because it is one (okay, technically it is an anti-utopia).

I have a couple of reasons for writing about the movie. One is that we can expect to see more environmental dystopias as the painful reality of global warming becomes more and more obvious to all. Wall-E makes clear that even the most brutal satire of our self-inflicted environmental predicament can be a box office success, if it is well done. The second reason is the incredible irony of Disney making this movie.

As a film it is superb, a must see for children and adults. Critically acclaimed, it received a rare 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. The New Yorker‘s tough-to-please David Denby writes:

Watching Pixar’s animated film “WALL-E” must be a humbling experience for other filmmakers, because it demonstrates not just the number but the variety of ideas you need to make a terrific movie.

This may be the only major movie ever made that is both a dystopia and anti-utopia. In the dystopic first half, we see a lifeless post-eco-apocalyptic Earth overrun by toxic garbage, which is collected and compacted by our robotic hero, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth-Class). WALL-E has become sentient by collecting and studying the waste of humanity, including an old tape of the movie Hello Dolly he plays over and over again.

In the anti-utopic second half, the megacorporation Buy ‘N Large had created a seeming paradise for humans on board “Executive Starliners” where every task has become automated. But hundreds of years after what was supposed to be a brief exodus while Earth was cleaned up, humans have become “a flabby mass of peabrained idiots who are literally too fat to walk.” These lazy, overweight video-addicts — whoever could the moviemakers be talking about? — are less human than WALL-E.

Though criticized by some conservatives as anti-capitalist, WALL-E is perhaps best described as one of the most anti-consumption movies ever made. That’s why even Michael Gerson, a Former Bush speechwriter known for his evangelical moralism, loved the movie and saw it as a daring attack on “a culture of consumption.”

As much as I loved the movie, I did find an odd disjunction….

Yes, the movie is a brutal satire on “self-involved consumption.” But if we are looking at who in the world is responsible for self-involved consumption, for the global homogenization of mass consumerism, for instigating the shop-until-you-drop culture at an early age, surely Disney itself would be on the short list.

Indeed, you can go to Amazon.com and find lots of mass consumer junk delightful Wall-E toys. For a mere $63.99 plus shipping and handling, you can indoctrinate buy your prospective mass consumer precocious child a U Command Wall-E (featured above), which is the 28th most popular Toy on amazon.

[I am happy to say my child (so far) only owns one of the top 50 most popular Toys & Games -- LeapFrog® Learn & Groove® Musical Table, which is not at all junk and in fact quite educational and hopefully we will hand it down to someone else's child blah, blah, blah.]

Our culture is going to undergo a remarkable transformation over the next few decades. Either we will proactively embrace an efficiency, conservation, and clean energy revolution starting in the first term of the next president. Or a culture of scarcity will be forced upon us sometime during Planetary Purgatory (see “Anti-science conservatives must be stopped“). I am not so rosy-eyed as to see the former as a utopia, but the latter will most certainly be a dystopia grim as any ever envisioned.

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10 Responses to Wall-E is an eco-dystopian gem — an anti-consumption movie (from Disney!)

  1. Eric Roston says:

    Did they make Monsters, Inc.? That movie had a very thinly veiled renewable-energy subtext — worth a second viewing even if you’ve already seen it.

  2. llewelly says:

    Either way – there will be a lot fewer toys to buy. But beyond the merchandising – movies from major movie companies also consume a great deal of energy in their making. Large movie budgets will get hard to justify in either scenario.

  3. Alex 77 says:

    Joe – posts like this are part of why Climate Progress is on my required reading list. Posting a highly positive pseudo-film review on a wonkish climate change blog, and then rightly taking the parent company to task for their hypocrisy and history, well, that can’t be found anywhere else. Thank you.

  4. Dennis says:

    “Indeed, you can go to Amazon.com and find lots of mass consumer junk delightful Wall-E toys.”

    When the inevitable sequel comes out (can Hollywood NOT do a sequel to a movie that’s made over $160 million?), I hope Wall-E, while clean up mountains of trash, runs across a discarded Wall-E toy.

  5. Eoin says:

    There was definitely something subversive about the film: among the great heaps of trash, we see several discarded plastic toys from other Pixar films such as “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.”

    When you have a chance, be sure to check out the fictional Buy n Large website at http://www.buynlarge.com It’s a spot-on satire of monolithic corporations.

  6. Jade A. says:

    I really enjoyed Wall-E. I would go so far as to say it’s one of the best sci-fi animation fims ever made. I found it humorous that the usual suspects were railing against Wall-E for being an insidious left wing propaganda piece. I would have never of guessed that a bunch anti-science conserveratives wouldn’t want to be lectured about the taking care of the planet by a bunch of liberal animators from the San Francisco Bay Area. Who da thunk it?

  7. patrick says:

    Wall-E totally looks like the robot from “Short Circuit”… minus the cheesy 80′s style of course

  8. Damien says:

    If you stayed until the end of the credits, the last image is a Buy’n Large logo, as if they had produced the film. This vertiginous paradox blew my mind…

  9. There’s no doubt that it IS an anti-capitalist, left-wing, eco-fascist piece of propaganda. Not that the people behind the movie are necessarily eco-fascists. But they’re taking advantage of the attention the whole non-issue of global warming (aka climate change) is receiving. Politicians and the media are playing on peoples’ fears in order to make money – it’s a simple equation.

  10. John Hollenberg says:

    > But they’re taking advantage of the attention the whole non-issue of global warming (aka climate change) is receiving.

    For a science-based approach to this issue, see:

    http://www.ipcc.ch/