July 3, 2008
Posted: 04:48 PM ET
A little more than a century from now, our planet will be so polluted as to be virtually uninhabitable. That’s the cheery premise behind Disney/Pixar’s charming “Wall-E,” the most popular movie in the country last week.
The film takes place in the 2800s, when Wall-E, a cute little trash-compacting robot, is the last life of any kind remaining on Earth (aside from his indestructible pet cockroach). Long since abandoned, Wall-E goes about his solitary and meaningless work in a bleak urban landscape marred by dirty skies, sludgy seas and towering piles of consumer waste from Buy N’ Large, the free market’s last surviving megastore.
From “I Am Legend” to Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” recent pop culture has been full of post-apocalyptic stories. But “Wall-E” departs from those tales in one key aspect: The human race in this movie isn’t becoming extinct, it’s just on an indefinite vacation. In the future created by “Wall-E’s” filmmakers, we humans flee our ruined planet in 2110 for giant, cruise-ship-like space vessels, where we drift numbly through the solar system for the next 700 years. Coddled by servant robots, carted around on levitating recliner chairs, fed through Big Gulp-like cups and medicated by programming on ever-present hologram TVs, we have become infantile and morbidly fat.
In this way, “Wall-E” takes 21st-century societal trends – ecological destruction, rampant consumerism, corporate consolidation and obesity – and projects them forward to their most drastic consequences. Right-wing bloggers already have attacked what they see as the movie’s save-the-Earth message, although they might be heartened to see that in “Wall-E’s” vision of the future, government doesn’t seem to exist (the spacecraft are operated by Buy N’ Large).
Like many futuristic stories, “Wall-E” takes a cautionary view of technology. Its chief antagonist is a spaceship’s autopilot function (a nod to HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and the movie’s ending celebrates the benefits of. . .simple farming. Wall-E himself is a mostly low-tech creation, more mechanical than digital, although he displays remarkable feelings of curiosity, fear and love.
One final thought: Considering that Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs also ran Pixar, it’s no surprise that the solar-powered Wall-E reboots to the swelling sound of the Mac startup tone. But Pixar does have a sense of humor - the evil autopilot computer is voiced by Apple’s speech-recognition software.
–Brandon Griggs, Tech Section Producer, CNN.com
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