It turns out there was a very good reason Disney paid $7.4 billion for Pixar Animation Studios back in 2006 after all. The studio has been struck with a chronic case of overflowing creativity since they rolled out Toy Story in 1995 (the studio’s lowest grossing film at a measly $361 million worldwide), and there haven't been any signs of slowing down since. Many of Pixar’s past successes stem from the fact that, though they made animated films for young audiences, they included sophisticated nuance or interesting plot-point for adults to appreciate as well. In Toy Story, it was the reality of growing up and leaving childhood behind; Monsters Inc. carried not-so-subtle messages about the oppressive climate of the corporate workplace; and Cars outright shamed us for daring to drive on interstates, leaving so many small highway towns to wither and die. WALL-E carries on Pixar's rich tradition, but this time dares to do something new: it's a movie primarily for adults that the kids just might enjoy, too.
There are plenty of sight gags and goofy animated faces to please younger audiences in WALL-E, but one wonders how many seven and eight year olds will appreciate the opening images of the film, which take us on a tour of a decimated planet Earth, nothing more than a landfill of capitalist waste. WALL-E, essentially a trash compactor on miniature tank treads, does his best to clean up the mess left by humanity, who abandoned Earth more than 700 years earlier. He is the last robot left on the planet (save for a loyal pet cockroach), dutifully performing his task of creating neat piles of trash by day before retiring to his cargo container to watch clips of Hello Dolly! at night. WALL-E is only capable of making a few simple beeping and buzzing sounds (which he later learns to form into words), but the Pixar team does a remarkable job of shaping him into one of their most sympathetic characters to date. Director Andrew Stanton and his team have created in WALL-E a 28th century Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, and this nostalgia, not only for Old Hollywood but for the past in general, comes through every time WALL-E hums a few bars of “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” or tries to master his Rubik’s Cube.
Regular, old humans have always taken a backseat in previous Pixar films, but in WALL-E the studio goes even further in its rejection of homo sapiens, reducing us to a half-joking commentary on laziness and obesity. The humans we meet, long into the film’s second act, are bulbous blobs carted about in a spacecraft on hovering easy chairs. Each human has a personal screen that sits inches from their face and allows them to talk to friends, shop for products from Buy n’ Large Corp., or order food conveniently packaged in drink-form. The frightening thing is that the only far-fetched concept at work here is the idea of a hovering easy chair. This commentary about the destructive force of unchecked consumerism is what gives the movie its appeal to older audiences. WALL-E speaks directly to the parents who buy the toys, the triple-caffeinated energy drinks, and Xbox Live accounts for their children and demands that they re-evaluate their choices. We are confronted with a sobering look at our possible future, masked by the giddy laughter of children who will find the film's goofy, double-chinned humans hysterical.
Of course, despite Disney•Pixar’s laudable intentions for WALL-E, the company clearly doesn’t recognize its own monstrous face in the mirror it's holding up. WALL-E is sure to be a commercial enterprise, raking in dough via computer game spin-offs, lunch boxes, and on-ice productions. Pixar’s Steve Jobs also cannot resist plugging his Apple products in the film: not only does WALL-E own a video iPod, but he also has the same start-up sound as a monochrome Macintosh Classic. Even one of the credited voice actors is Apple’s own MacinTalk speech program. However, as unfortunate it is that this wildly anti-consumerist film will ironically fuel the engine of commercialism, this reality doesn't overshadow the film's brilliance. WALL-E is without a doubt Pixar’s most mature and intelligent offering to date.