Aliens, Time Travel and Doctor Who: Post Podcast Homework

For this week’s post podcast “homework”, check out Pixar’s Wall-E. Yes, I know that’s hardly a neglected gem or something you’re unlikely to have seen, but have a look at it again with the following in mind.


Firstly, this isn’t merely a great animated film. Yes, the animation is achingly beautiful (I would argue Pixar’s most beautiful to date), but as Brad Bird says, animation is a technique, not a genre. Rather, Wall-E is a great science fiction film full-stop. It belongs to the tradition of environmentally aware sci-fi, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Silent Running.


Wall-E may have an environmentalist message, but it isn’t preachy. It isn’t sanctimoniously wagging a finger urging us to all become vegans. Instead it tells a comical, beautiful, brilliant love story between two robots, against a far future backdrop that contains not only an inherent warning about industrial excess, but a warning about overdependence on automation, and what happens if we let technology become the master rather than the servant, as the human race is so often wont to do.


Secondly, and most importantly, Wall-E is a much, much darker film than it first appears. Consider this: how have the overweight, screen-addicted, passive humans on the Axiom spaceship perpetuated the species over the last few thousand years? Blink-and-you-miss-them shots show babies being brainwashed by automated “Buy N Large” corporate programming. The implication is that babies haven’t been bred the old fashioned way for centuries, but are genetically engineered.


This is underlined by the romantic relationship between the two humans triggered by Wall-E’s presence on the Axiom spaceship (which essentially breaks the brainwashing spell of the automated systems). Although the line “John, get ready to have some kids!” is used for comic effect during the tense finale (in order to save some falling babies), the implication is very clear: no-one has been “horizontal jogging” in a very long time.


There are also a number of deliberately symbolic references in the way Eve has become “pregnant” with the “specimen” she has recovered from Earth, and how the villainous, HAL-like Otto tries to force her to “abort” the baby. Of course, Eve is so-named because she ultimately ushers in a new Eden (of sorts). Oh – and since we’re making Biblical allusions, there’s definitely something very selfless and Christ-like in the way Wall-E sacrifices himself to save everyone, only for Eve to ultimately bring him back through the power of love in the poignant finale.


None of this detracts from the sheer delight and whimsy.Every time I watch it, this film doesn’t just get deeper, it gets funnier. I love the way Wall-E antagonises the clean-up robots by making dirty patches on the floor. In fact, the personality of the robots stands in stark contrast to the brainwashed humans, in everything from the severe looking librarian type robot that guards the way to the bridge, to the “insane” malfunctioning robots that are later so influential in the human uprising against the technology that has kept them in a constant state of apathy.


I also love the defiant undercurrent of anarchic joy that runs through the film, which takes delight in poking fun at idiotic rules. In one brief sequence, a robot telling the human lovers not to splash by the pool has water splashed in its face. This brilliant moment demonstrates what our attitude to technology ought to be: let it serve, but never, ever let it tell us what to do.

In conclusion, I would argue Wall-E is a great science fiction film in its own right that can stand alongside the greats of the genre. Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter excelled themselves on this occasion to create my favourite film of 2008. Lovely music score by Thomas Newman too.

Samantha Stephen