Wall-E (2008)

Directed by Andrew Stanton

I think this is a movie I should love given the type of story it is (a hero story and romance with the hero being a robot). But after watching it, what I most feel is ambivalence. The decision to go with almost no dialogue, particularly in the first third of the film, seems daring. The eco-theme is appealing, at least for those who are of an environmental persuasion.

Really, I should love this. So why do I have mixed feelings?

I think it’s because before watching it I was predisposed against it due to all of the marketing junk associated with the DVD. Wow! I don’t recall another DVD that was so in your face with the branding and sales pitch. It was so off-putting, by the time the movie started I was cranky. My suspicion is, it actually is a very good film. Maybe that’s why it is so tarted up with hooey. Disney wanted to squeeze every ounce out of it for sales, sales, sales!

(I’m referring to the single disc edition – not the three disc edition or the Blu-Ray. I’m not sure how they were packaged.)

Rather than the usual plastic DVD case, the single disc comes in a cardboard affair that pulls out, partly, from a sleeve, with the DVD set in a kind cardboard tray with a foldout over it. I’m not sure that explains it but it doesn’t really matter. It feels quite flimsy and it’s not a simple matter to get the actual disc out without manhandling the package.

Of course, before getting to that you have to remove the usual plastic covering over the package, the covering with plastic labels. Once out, you open the cardboard case as little slips of paper fall out. I’m not sure what they were about – clubs, contests, etc. The usual thing is my guess.

You go to play the disc and you get the usual trailers, which aren’t really trailers at all but colourful hoo-hah about how great Disney is and many more “limited time only” movies you can buy. It’s colourful, yes, but really annoying.

I suppose I’m use to this kind of thing by now. Maybe it’s simply my annoyance at not getting the usual plastic case but a cardboard thing that’s doomed to fall apart. But overall, it seems to me there was something about the tone, or maybe it was the overall impression, that made me feel I was being hit over the head by a well-dressed but smarmy salesman.

There’s something a bit ironic about it all too, though perhaps not intended. In the movie, humanity has moved off-world. They live in a huge ship until such time the Earth is habitable again (having been buried under humanity’s trash). The captain of the ship is not really a captain but more of a cruise director aboard a huge, space luxury liner.

In this ship, people live as if on a cruise with robots taking care of their every need. In fact, they spend most of their time laying back, supine, in high-tech deck chairs. They do little physical except raise drinks to their mouths. Not surprisingly, all are very fat – so much so that even if they were to attempt movement, like walking, they would have a difficult time.

The irony I referred to is in how their world is constructed, this life they live aboard the ship. While it is like a luxury liner on a cruise of the Caribbean, it is also like a huge mall. Ads are everywhere. Big Brother like messages sound constantly and corporate logos are ubiquitous. It’s a world gone mad with branding, with providing a controlled, hedonistic experience that is associated with a brand.

In the world humanity has adopted, people blithely accept as normal a life defined by marketing. And the irony is that the DVD of Wall-E would be right at home in that world. It is that world.

I will try watching the movie again, though I’m not sure when. I have a nagging suspicion it may be more than good; it could be excellent. I do know it’s not a bad film – far from it. It may be one of the more intelligent animated movies of the last few years. But for now, Disney’s obsessive branding obscures it, at least for me.

It really makes me wish Pixar had never become part of the Disney behemoth.

2 stars out of 4.

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