Although Pixar has been through its ups and downs in recent years, there’s one thing that’s always been consistent: wondrously original types of characters and universes. They manage to create the most unlikely heroes, many of them in anthropomorphic form. Whether it’s showing the secret life of children toys, or a rat that with aspirations of becoming a chef, you get a unique viewing experience that you won’t find from other animation studios.
However outside of the Toy Story series, I don’t think there’s another more ambitious film in Pixar’s arsenal than Wall-E. Based on the movie’s early marketing, it on the surface seemed pretty simple. A trash compactor robot goes through a Groundhog Day-esque routine of cleaning up mountains of trash on a deserted Earth, in addition to having comical interactions with nostalgic human objects. He then finds out he’s not the only robot on Earth and falls in love with a space probe named EVE. Outside of those aspects, the rest of the story was unknown until it hit theaters on June 27, 2008. And here are now 10 years later.
When I saw the movie during its opening weekend, I was in complete awe. It was almost too easy to be charmed by the sweet relationship between Wall-E and EVE, in addition to the clever slapstick comedy that would make Charlie Chaplin proud. However it’s the pivotal transition when Wall-E leaves Earth for space by clinging to the Axiom starcraft. Once he makes his way to the core of the ship, expectations from the previews are completely subverted. Onboard the ship are humans that are all obese, depend on technology for every part of their daily lives, and interact with each other only through screens.
All that sounds eerily familiar, right? These themes, in addition to environmental danger, waste management, and most of all, consumerism, sparked provocative responses as they all correlated to real world issues. Thus, in commemoration of Wall-E’s ten year anniversary, I’ve decided to pick three main themes and explore how they’ve aged in their relevance.
Then: In the movie, the country is run by the Buy-N-Large corporation, which offers literally everything the human population could depend on in their daily lives. In the opening scenes, there’s a gas station, bank and “ultrastore” that all display the big Buy-N-Large logo. The mid-to-late 2000s featured a growing size of Walmart superstores, which is what the “ultrastore” is specifically referring to. By thriving off of famous slogans like “Always low prices. Always.”, and “Save money. Live better.”, they gained a growing reputation for being the one-stop for people’s daily necessities, in addition to killing the mom-and-pop store.
Now: Walmart’s influence is still strong, but today it’s Amazon that takes the title for the closest company that represents Buy-N-Large. Infinite shopping options at reasonable prices, large media streaming services, innovative everyday electronics, etc. Need I say more?
Then: The humans aboard the Axiom in Wall-E always sit in hovering chairs with virtual screens that have enough features to completely suck them out of normal human contact. They also rely on the ship’s robots to serve them for all their needs because they’re too obese and lazy to do it themselves. Furthermore, the ship’s captain relies on two computer systems to do all of the work.
Now: For the majority of the human scenes, there’s little to no actual human interaction. Everyone communicates through their screens where they see each other from a webcam perspective. Two years after the movie’s release, Apple introduced the FaceTime app on the iPhone and iPad platforms, which today is widely used as the main alternative to audio only phone calls. As for alluding to the captain using computers to give him information on any topic, Apple added the personal voice assistant, Siri, to all of its main products. Lastly, it’s impossible to ignore the Amazon Echo’s Alexa function, which came out several years after Siri. My oh my have the tables turned where Apple is no longer the tech giant in at least one field.
Then: Because of Buy-N-Large’s massive influence on society, most notably through its mass consumerism, Earth became a trash heap because of people not recycling any of their goods. This leads to severe air pollution that is deemed too toxic for humans to inhale, which leads to evacuation of the human race to the Axiom starliners. For the next several hundred years where Wall-E continues to be the only trash compactor on Earth, the planet’s environment is comprised almost entirely of dirt, dust, and smog. At the time of the movie’s release, the topic of rising air pollution was starting to gain more traction in discussions across the public sphere. This also led to speculation that growing concerns of climate change would worsen the trend.
Now: Over the last two years, more data has shown that air pollution levels in urban environments are continuing to climb. Even more troubling is its mix with the growing presence of climate change, which could produce even more dirty air. On the bright side these issues led to the creation of the Paris Climate Accord, a nearly worldwide agreement for countries to plan and regularly report its own contributions to reduce the risks of global warming. In case some of you might not know, the United States will unfortunately pull itself from the accord in late 2020, so I and many others are clinging to hope that the country could still achieve at least some of its intended goals.
There a lot of other phenomenal aspects of Wall-E that I’d love to discuss, but this retrospective is more both a reflection of the past and how things have evolved since. On the surface, Wall-E is a touching love story between two sentient robots that display a close bond through almost no dialogue. It’s also Wall-E’s hectic journey to reunite with EVE that brings back basic human interaction that doesn’t involve technology. Although the title character’s arc is juxtaposed by the troubling dystopia on the Axiom, it nonetheless brings light to both Pixar’s gloriously unique protagonists and real-world issues that deserve even more attention than before.