It’s hard to see how a Disney-certified happy ending can result from this, and the answer is it really can’t. This is perhaps the most cynical and darkest big-budget Disney film ever, and an artistic gamble on the scale of Fantasia, which initially flopped despite critical acclaim. Pixar is now acting like Disney’s senior partner. Perhaps never before has any corporation spent so much money on insulting its customers — WALL-E is expected to be the year’s most heavily promoted film.
The meatball humans in WALL-E are like customers passively being served up a fake existence at the Magic Kingdom (which readily provides wheelchairs for not merely the afflicted but also the obese and the simply lazy), snorfling up the latest wows in an entirely artificial setting where every beverage and hotel room brings profits to the same corporation. And Disney paved over a few thousand acres of Florida wetlands to build Walt Disney World in the first place.
How paying customers will react to being told they’re porky slobs, or are headed in that direction (WALL-E is set 800 years in the future) will depend on how closely the people in the audience ignore the people on screen and concentrate on WALL-E and Eva.
The robots are cute but limited by a lack of dialogue, and their storylines essentially consist of a lot of Buster Keaton-style slapstick as a variety of evil machines try to steal from them a small plant from Earth that they brought with them as evidence that the planet is inhabitable again. That poses a threat to the corporation that is generating so much profit from its captive audience on the space station.
WALL-E isn’t much of a character, though, and the conflicts in the film are not only slow to develop but have hazily-defined stakes. Regardless of what happens with the plant, regardless of whether a HAL 9000-like computer named Otto and the corporation he represents succeed in convincing the puppet captain of the space ship that there is no reason to return to Earth, the planet is essentially beyond hope.
The repeated allusions to 2001 (including some musical cues which are now trite) reminded me of how much more human Stanley Kubrick’s film was; Dave Bowman, unlike the space station captain in WALL-E, was resourceful and dynamic, not a blubbery idiot, and his adventure was leading to a mighty payoff, not a possible trip back to an apoca-landfill. What will the humans do to rebuild on Earth if they go back to it anyway? They are about as skilled as crash-test dummies.
Those who go to WALL-E expecting a mechanical E.T. should be prepared instead to inhale the fumes of an almost sulfurous satire.
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Starring: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
2.5 stars/ 4
97 minutes/Rated G