Sunday, September 21, 2008
Social commentary is not something that comes to mind when I scroll through the children's movies I've seen over the years. Certainly children's movies reflect the attitudes of the day. You can look right at the progression of the Disney heroines over the years, from Snow White to Mulan, to see how attitudes toward women and their role in society has changed. But I wouldn't suggest that a movie like "Finding Nemo" has any broad meaning to it-- other than "differently abled" fish can swim just as well as any other fish. But Pixar's Wall-E is an entirely different kettle of fish-- so to speak. We like to take our kids to the movie theatre when we can. My son has finally reached the age where he can sit through a whole hour-and-a-half movie and it's great because my husband and I genuinely like animated films. Thanks to the Pixar marketing machine my son has wanted to see "Wall-E" ever since it came out in June and we finally made it to the theatre to see it this morning. "Wall-E" is the story of a robot who has been left behind on a massively over-polluted Earth. He has spent the last 700 years attempting to clean up the piles of trash that have overtaken the whole planet while humanity floats along in space being catered to by a robot army of machines that feed, transport and entertain them. Wall-E lives on Earth by himself, as the other machines have stopped working over the 700-year clean-up period. His only companion is a cockroach who lives on Twinkies. Wall-E continues on with his job of cleaning up, while picking and saving bits of trash that he uses to decorate his "home" in the belly of another big machine. He watches an old tape of "Hello Dolly" and learns about love and companionship from the old movie. Then one day a probe sent from the Axiom, the ship that carries the descendants of the people who originally left Earth, arrives and Wall-E meets EVE; a robot sent to see if organic life has reappeared on the planet. The first 30 minutes of the movie are very quiet. We follow Wall-E through the incredible amount of waste still left to be disposed. The sky is cloudy and polluted and we see that even space is so crowded with satellites that a spaceship must crash through a layer of them just to leave the planet's atmosphere. Clearly Pixar is suggesting we need to recycle. The movie bounces between Earth and the Axiom, showing us that humanity is both wasteful and superfluous. People have reached the point that they are so dependant on machines that they can no longer walk. They have become fat, lazy-- and like I said, altogether pointless. Wow. I wasn't expecting quite so much ecologically-minded content in my G-rated film. But is that a bad thing? I'm guessing from the 96% positive rating the movie got on Rotten Tomatoes that most people would say no. And there is nothing in the message that is incorrect. It doesn't take a genius to notice that human beings are wasteful and a trip to the gym wouldn't hurt most of us. Wall-E is an incredibly sweet character. The movie absolutely has a soul and I enjoyed it very much. But could you call it a good "kid's" movie? That is a matter of perspective. My husband fell asleep during the movie while my 4 1/2-year-old was spellbound. I have no idea what to make of that. But I do wonder what parent's think of "Wall-E" in general. I don't think there is anything wrong with putting the message in a kid's film that we shouldn't be wasteful. (For the record my husband has taught my kids to pick up trash in our neighborhood and throw it away-- my husband isn't against recycling, he just thought the movie was slow). And goodness knows that weight is definitely becoming an issue world-wide. But do kids really get the message from a movie like "Wall-E?" Do they pick up the undertones or do they just get bored and tune out? Does it matter? I really don't know. I thought the movie was cute. My kids liked it and if they come away with the idea that waste is bad, then what could be wrong with that? But my husband was irritated by the whole thing. I think he felt like a social agenda was being shoved down his throat while he was just trying to watch a cartoon. I get that. Sometimes I just want to be entertained too. So what do you think? Is Pixar trying too hard to be socially conscious? Or do you think that it's a great idea to expose kids to a social agenda as early as possible? "Wall-E" has a message that I think most of us would agree is a good one. But if movie-makers get into the habit of including a message, at what point are they likely to court controversy? Just a whiff of spirituality would be enough freak out a whole lot of people IMO. Maybe our acceptance is entirely dependent on the message itself. Or maybe I'm just over-thinking this.