Robotically Yours

David has already pointed out one potential note of contradiction in Wall·E. Let me suggest another. (Some spoilers involved.)

Pixar is a company devoted to breakthrough technology. Each of their films are technical and technological marvels as well as artistic accomplishments. They are showcases for the frontiers of CG innovation — and they are clearly designed as such. Moreover, the company’s films have consistently revolved around sentimental attachments to inessential consumer products: toys, cars, expensive meals. Additionally, Pixar specializes in loving, awe-struck portrayals of the intricacies of mechanization: Think of the baggage conveyor-belt chase in Toy Story, the gonzo Rube-Goldberg factory in Monsters, Inc., the whirring high-tech villain’s lair in The Incredibles, or pretty much any scene in Wall·E.

In nearly every scene in Wall·E, the studio’s creative wizards are clearly impressed by their own creations: the ship, the interlocking chains of choreographed, factory-like movement across its decks, the array of devices that sprout from its every nook and cranny, the armies of cleverly designed robots who scurry about. One subtext of all of these scenes is, more or less, “Gee whiz! That’s neat!”

And indeed it is.

Yet Wall·E is structured in large part as a warning about the perils of over-reliance on machines and technological conveniences.

It bears noting that both Wall·E and EVE are machines, machines which are explicitly products of humanity’s quest for comfort, convenience, and technology-assisted living. Yet these machines are shown to have more character, more life — indeed, more humanity — than any of the humans we see. And it is through the actions of these machines that the humans finally return to Earth and, presumably, regain their humanity.

Save for one overwritten speech by the ship’s captain, the theme, that technology becomes a hobbling crutch, is integrated seamlessly into the narrative, and it rings true, of course, because there is at least an element of truth to it. Yet it’s at least complicated by the fact that it’s being delivered by a team of professionals who’ve made their reputations on high-tech entertainments and are clearly personally enamored with the luxuries and wonders that can only technology can bring.