Wall-E–A Hollywood Miracle

About once every ten years Hollywood makes a movie that is so “outside the box” that you wonder how it ever got a greenlight. “Citizen Kane” and “The Godfather” clearly come to mind. Pixar’s new movie, “Wall-E”is so wonderfully subversive that it is a miracle it ever got made. I think it is clearly the best movie Pixar has ever made and beyond that it is a planetary lesson of grace and beauty. That the Walt Disney Company paid for this parable about excess consumption and the corporatization of the planet is extraordinary, but they are to be commended for it and come Oscar time they will be rewarded.

Wall-E depicts a world of the future that WalMart (called Buy N Large in the film) made. A world of Superstores selling super amounts of junk to a country drowning in trash. Eventually, in order to keep selling, BNL ships all of the humans off the planet into space colonies, where the human race evolves backwards into fat lazy entertainment addicts serviced by a colony of robots. But the film is no ecology lecture. First off, it is as close to a silent film as we have had in 75 years. It has echoes of Modern Times, Metropolis, 2001, Bladerunner and yet it is a love story with a decidedly optimistic ending (stay through the end credits). I have written before about the dystopian artist and the age of anxiety. But Wall-E is something far more ambitious. When the history of the first 100 years of animation is written, I’m pretty sure Wall-E will be right up there with the earliest Disney classics in the pantheon.

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0 Responses to Wall-E–A Hollywood Miracle

  1. Allen Varney says:

    Wall-E won’t figure in any history of the first 100 years of animation, because it’s in the second hundred years. Film animation has been around since at least “The Enchanted Drawing” (1900):


  2. Alex Bowles says:


    You may want to sharpen your aim a bit on this one. After all, Wal-Mart shoppers are probably the last group in America you’d look too if you were studying an out-of-control culture of consumption. Basic economics should explain why this is so.

    The truth is, most Wal-Mart shoppers are focused on just getting by. Wal-Mart obliges by running such a ferociously efficient and waste-resistant delivery chain that they can meet basic needs at consistently low prices.

    Of course, their low prices are also a function of some fairly ferocious labor practices, but that’s another story. When it comes to the culture of consumption, it’s the guy who needs to lease a new BMW every 2-3 years who really has something to answer for, not the single mom getting herself and three kids by with a decade-old mini-van.

    The reality is that Wal-Mart has failed conspicuously when it comes to breaking into markets that are driven more by want than need. These markets – concentrated as they are in more urbanized areas – are typically served best by retailers who can successfully predict, amplify and cash-in on trends in fashion and style – two things that Wal-Mart has never been accused of having.

    None of this diminishes your point about the problems with the culture of consumption. But if you’re looking for a target, you’ll need to search further east than Bentonville. Madison Avenue is far closer to the mark. And that, of course, sends you right back to Burbank, which is where a giant portion of the cash sluicing through there gets spent.

    If you want to single out the consumers with the biggest impact on patterns of consumption, you should consider the prevailing norms in the higher priced zip codes – and the larger aspirations they fuel. After all, this is where advertisers and broadcasters turn when trying to define their own version of the American Dream.

    Wal-Mart is simply there to catch all the people who could never catch up or keep up. The astonishing size of this company is, perhaps, the best indication that the images of ‘normal life’ broadcast from New York and LA are really anything but.

    Which, to your larger point, makes Wall*E all the more remarkable. So kudos to Disney for releasing it. Hopefully, the message of this film will give people on the harder end of things one less reason to feel inadequate, while reminding those with real means that a sense of self-worth based on consumption leaves a lot to be desired.

  3. Jon Taplin says:

    Alex- Your point is well made. WalMart is probably too easy a target here. However, I’m not sure that WalMart doesn’t go a long way to sell shoppers something they don’t need when they come in for something they do need. I don’t think we would be at a place where middle class savings rates are below zero, if it weren’t for retailers like WalMart.

  4. Jon Taplin says:

    Allen-Wow! who knew that Animation proceeded Edwin Porter’s “Life of the American Fireman”, which I took to be the first feature film in 1903.

  5. bigring55t says:

    Alex- That might have been Wal-Mart’s original target, but the effect their prices had on local competition have often made them (literally) the only game in town. I also recall reading that they actually make their biggest profit upselling from the lowest price point to the next level. They may not be able to change their branding, but the reality is they wouldn’t be the size they were if all they did was sell to the people just trying to get by. That said, I just saw the movie today and thought it was magnificent. As did my 3.5 yo daughter ( She was howling with laughter at the short that preceded it). BNL seemed to me not just to be Wal-Mart, but a compilation of our consumer (and corporate) culture that consistently emphasizes quantity over quality.

  6. Ken Ballweg says:

    I suspect Sams Club and Costco was actually the model you had in mind Jon more than Wal-Mart.

  7. Jon Taplin says:

    bigring55- The word tonight in Hollywood is that Disney is going to try to push Wall-E for Best Picture rather than settling for bet Animated Picture. Cool.

  8. Azurecloud says:

    I am SO excited to see this movie, and am ashamed that I haven’t seen it yet. Disney and Pixar do it again, opening their best movie the weekend before the 4th (last year’s Ratatouille was also a big smash this same weekend). The best critics from the top US pubs have called this one of the best films of the year and a definite Oscar contender. :)

  9. Dan says:

    Alex, I think your points are good ones, but from an anecdotal point of view, I can tell you that I know many people–far, far too many–who are in the upper-middle class, if not verging on downright affluent, who still shop at Walmart because it’s cheapest, or they think it’s cheapest, even if the saving is small. They’ll go there to save $10 on a TV, for example.

    It baffles me. And nauseates me.

    There are also a lot of rural areas where Walmart is just about the only option, or the closest option.

    Anyway, thanks for the tip, Jon. I’m now considering seeing this movie. At first glance it appeared to be a syrupy kid movie with no adult appeal. And since you slammed “Speed Racer” as it deserved, I put at least some credence in your taste in movies.

  10. Alex Bowles says:

    Sorry all – didn’t mean to make this a referendum on WM. It’s an obviously charged topic, and a distraction from a truly remarkable event.

    Here’s a really great link to the story of the film’s inception: http://news.scotsman.com/entertainment/WallE–Pixar-animation.4161895.jp

  11. The movie got me to thinking: Why is Pixar worth more than General Motors? So…

  12. Rick Turner says:

    Pixar smart; GM stupid. Pixar make money; GM lose ass. Pixar think of future; GM stuck in past.

  13. Dan says:

    I saw the movie on Saturday. Fabulous. Astonighingly innovative. My nephew described it as a “silent movie” because it has so little dialogue. Yet it says so much.

    The ending was predictable and sappy (and it didn’t address all of the lardasses on the ship who would refuse to leave their hoverchairs) but that didn’t detract from the movie’s brilliance.

  14. patrick says:

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

  15. Hugo says:

    Like unto “2001”, or rather as unto “A Clockwork Orange”?

  16. Sasha says:

    Um…there’s nothing subversive about this film, #1. #2 – it’s Hollywood. Why should we be surprised that something Earth-conscious came out of it? Besides, I didn’t feel like it was about environmentalism as much as it was about over consumption and a reliance on technology that’s crippled us from enjoying life.

  17. Hugo says:

    Um…Sasha, Peace.

    I mean, Peace, and that’s cool. By which I mean that I DO MEAN, simply Sasha peace peace peace peace let peace be peace nobody’s fleecing you just peace.

    Also peace.

    Fine, Sasha. You’re right. So what?

    Answer: Why would you get boomeranged into saying such silly things as, “there’s nothing subversive about this film”, or else: “I didn’t feel like it was about environmentalism as much as it was about over[-]consumption”? For goodness’ sake, Sasha, What distinctions are you drawing here, or else failing to draw?

    You confuse even me, and I thought I was too binary an amphibian to allow for confusion.

    See what I mean?

  18. Lynn says:

    I realize this is a stale thread, but I just read an article about Wal-Mart supplying doctors with information systems and I recalled my thoughts on Wall-E. When I Googled Wall-E Wal-Mart I got your blog. I staggered out of the film a bit queasy with confusion. On the surface it was subversive, but the ending left a generation of kids with the vague idea that even though the environment is doomed, eventually everything will be just fine. I especially hated the series of paintings and drawings depicting the returnees’ idyllic lives farming. The movie made it quite clear that the people’s frames had devolved to a point where their bones couldn’t support the fat. I think Disney must have dictated this ending late in production, which totally defeats the point of the story.

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