A myriad trusted critics, including the likes of Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott, have plunked WALL-E into their lists of the top ten films of 2008. According to rottentomatoes.com, the latest Disney/Pixar release is amongst the top reviewed movies of the annum, garnering a 96% approval rating from some 200+ contributing writers. It was also a top-grossing film, fifth in the U.S. last year.
Now, I get the money thing; by and large, consumers are willing to throw wads of cash at products that are sentimental and shiny (never mind the fact that WALL-E's narrative is rife with anti-consumerist themes). And I understand the film's appeal to children, whose underdeveloped minds allow them to appreciate entertainment without it having to maintain coherent sense. What perplexes me, I guess, is the number of rational thinkers (read "critics") who were willing to take the intellectual leaps of faith that WALL-E's logical inconsistencies demand.
Before you accuse me of over analyzing children's fare or, worse yet, of suffering a stagnant imagination, let me explain some of my personal Pixar peccadilloes. First of all, Pixar’s creative team is known for injecting some pretty sophisticated humour into their films, a brilliant device that engages grown up viewers and increases the lifespan of their pictures (a child of ten can watch Toy Story in his/her teenage years and glean so much more). Since the writers, animators, and filmmakers strive to appeal as much to me as they do to mini-me, I have no qualms about assessing Pixar flicks as seriously as I would any other film.
And, certainly, some of their movies are more juvenile than others. Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life just aren’t as sharp as the Toy Stories, Monsters, Inc., or The Incredibles. and To be fair, I consider the formers to be above par in the category of family films; they are simply less interesting to the part of me that likes the nutritious side of a Frosted Mini-Wheat. So forgive me if I hold WALL-E to a high standard.
Secondly, I am prone to childish wonderment. I can suspend disbelief when it comes to populations of sentient aquatic life and insects (Anthropomorphism or bust!), and I can certainly dial into past fantasies of toys coming to life and monsters under the bed. I have never seen Cars; can’t get passed the fact that if there are no drivers, there is no evolutionary reason for a race of vehicles to evolve. (Perhaps this is why I am more critical of the Transformers cartoon than I was at age eight.)
In the case of WALL-E, my issue is not one of premise. The film may smack viewers like you and me in the face with its all-too-obvious environmental messages, but I think the plot serves as an effective allegory for the younger crowd. No, for me the devil is in the details on this one; from beginning to end I just couldn’t get past the nonsensical “logistics” of WALL-E world. Par example:
1. Why is WALL-E the only remaining WALL-E unit in service? We see the mangled remains of his peers, but no coherent reason is given as to why they can’t recharge just as he does. Our WALL-E is frequently replacing his own burnt out appendages with parts salvaged from his former coworkers. For lack of any other evidence, I have to assume that the prequel will feature a murderous rampage sequence.
2. Whose idea was it to program a waste allocation droid to be curious? This robot equivalent of a trash compactor collects—and is fascinated by—such objects as an egg beater, rubber duckies, and bubble wrap. It’s as sensible as constructing a vacuum cleaner that wants to learn opera.
3. For that matter, why program a utility robot to feel emotion at all? Like fear… WALL-E makes C-3PO look butch. And the stupidest thing of all, integral to the narrative mind you, is that WALL-E falls in love with another robot. What is the point of gender coding your appliances? “Yeah, EVE’s primary directive is to probe the earth for evidence of sustainable life, and we’ve also given her mercenary capabilities in case she runs into danger, but she has a real soft spot for show tunes.” The mobile dumpster seduces EVE by screening scenes from Hello, Dolly! To what end? I used to bang pots and pans together when I was a kid… I doubt they ever received any sexual gratification out of it.
4. Now, the earth is covered with mounds of rubbish, so the humans take off on a space cruise leaving a squadron of Johnny-5’s to clean up by crushing the trash into cubes and assembling the blocks into columns. If so much as a bean sprout appears, mankind will return. But there will still be towers of garbage!!! “Yeah, this planet used to be a hole, but now that all of those oil drums and used tampons are stacked vertically, I think it’s kinda homey.” Launch the refuse into space and plant a frickin’ garden, people.
5. Which leads us to the physical state of Homo sapiens in the WALL-E universe. A cute expository gag details man’s evolution from Fred Willard to immobile butterball, but I think Darwin would be hard pressed to posit a survival of the fattest theory that would account for our newly acquired cartoon features.
Yes, if we relinquish the burden of walking in favor of hover-chairs, there will be a significant chance of weight gain; but the people in WALL-E look more like Barbapapa than that guy who had to have his trailer wall torn down on Jerry Springer.
6. Furthermore, the Willard character's video recording from some 700 years prior clearly informs the ship's captain that, "Due to the effects of micro-gravity, you and your passengers may have suffered some slight bone loss." Well, yes, and I'm not a doctor, but I have enough common sense to determine that if there are any muscles surrounding those ostio-toothpicks, they will have atrophied. Nevertheless, when these tubbies are thrown from their floating hammocks, they are able not only to support their own girth, but to traipse about with only the slightest bit of effort. The medicine practiced by Gregory House is more plausible.
And these are only six of the many things that make me go hmmm (In fact, several warrent a "What the-- ?!?"). I won't claim that I'm not a bit nit-picky, but my disbelief can only be suspended for so long when my intellect is being chided to the Nth degree. I also admit that there are probably more dire issues to discuss, like the position a friend of mine took when he wrote that: "In making a film that is ultimately cute and adorable and feel-good, Pixar has shown that it has the ability to make even the most pressing, important and dire issue of our time into fodder for mere escapism." Ultimately, though, I have too much trouble taking the film seriously enough to bother. I suppose if I had children, I would be more concerned with WALL-E's potential harm and/or foul. As it stands, I'm content to inhabit the role of curmudgeon. The critics can continue to play the wide-eyed fools.