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WALL-E’s Conservative Critics

Over the past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Disney-Pixar’s new animated movie “WALL-E.” Set in the apocalyptic-lite 28th century, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is a small robot left behind on an abandoned planet Earth, which you discover through a set of video clips has been evacuated due to heavy pollution, brought on by mass consumerism and exploitative big business. His chance encounter with EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is the catalyst for a surprisingly poignant love story that becomes the center of the movie’s plot. Without delving too much into my own personal opinions on the film–this post is not meant to be a review–I thought it was visually stunning, powerful, and deeply touching, and by my estimation the first Disney movie that is more meaningful and enjoyable for adults than for children.

The film has been received warmly [1] by an overwhelming majority of critics, but some on the right are upset about some of the movie’s themes. Greg Pollowitz at the NRO blog “Planet Gore” writes [2]:

I saw WALL-E with my five year old on Saturday night. It was like a 90-minute lecture on the dangers of over consumption, big corporations, and the destruction of the environment. All this from mega-company Disney, who wants us to buy WALL-E kitsch for our kids that are manufactured in China at environment-destroying factories and packed in plastic that will take hundreds of year to biodegrade in our landfills.

Much to Disney’s chagrin, I will do my part to avoid future environmental armageddon by boycotting any and all WALL-E merchandise and I hope others join my crusade.

These sentiments have been echoed by Shannen Coffin on The Corner, claiming [3] the movie is a “Godforsaken dreck” and was upset about being “bombarded with leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind.” Indeed, a point that Coffin makes that is echoed by outraged film critic Kyle Smith [4] is that, when the audience is introduced to the fat, dumb, technologically-enslaved humans, Pixar is insulting their target audience:

Wall-E…supposes that the human race of the future will become a flabby mass of peabrained idiots who are literally too fat to walk. Instead they zip around in flying wheelchairs surfing the Web, chatting on phone lines and stuffing their faces with food meant to be sucked down like milkshakes while unquestioningly taking orders from the master corporation that controls all aspects of their existence. I’m trying to think of a major Disney cartoon feature that was anywhere near as dark or cynical as this. I’m coming up blank. I’m also not sure I’ve ever seen a major corporation spend so much money to issue an insult to its customers.

The real tragedy of these callous conservative critics (say that three times fast) is that they are missing the real lessons of the movie, ones I found immediately attractive to a traditional conservative. In the film, it becomes clear that mass consumerism is not just the product of big business, but of big business wedded with big government. In fact, the two are indistinguishable in WALL-E’s future. The government unilaterally provided it’s citizens with everything they needed, and this lack of variety led to Earth’s downfall.

Another lesson missed is portrayed perfectly in Coffin’s claim that WALL-E points out the “evils of mankind.” The only evils of mankind portrayed are those that come about from losing touch with our own humanity. Staples of small-town conservative life such as the small farm, the “atomic family,” and old-fashioned and wholesome entertainment like “Hello, Dolly” are looked upon by the suddenly awakened humans as beautiful and desirable. By steering conservative families away from WALL-E, these commentators are doing their readers a great disservice.

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#1 Comment By Nathan Cummins On December 1, 2008 @ 10:56 pm

Mr. Ford,

I am creating a web-site for my Science Fiction seminar class at DePauw University on Wall-E. It is meant as a comprehensive, analytical view of WALL-E, included in there are some conservative reviews. I included the ones you mentioned above, and that was going to be it, until luckily I read your piece. I will be sure to make a special note about your response to these reviews in my website, in hopes to show that not every conservative has such vile responses to the movie. Just thought I’d let you know at least one person read your review and took it to heart.

-Nathan Cummins

#2 Comment By Katie On January 3, 2009 @ 8:14 pm

I am an Australian year 12 student currently completing my HSC and I just thought I would let you you know that of all the reviews/summaries I have read on Wall-e (I am using the film as additional material) yours was by far the most relevant and useful.

#3 Comment By Reverend Ed On February 11, 2009 @ 6:36 am

It never ceases to amaze me how thin skinned we conservatives can be. I “got it” the first time I saw it. I was proud to see Peter Gabriel win an Oscar for his contribution to the film’s score. We bought ourselves into a credit crisis and a recession, and we run around with every convenience at our disposal yet we forget even basic manners while using these conveniences. The movie promotes the simple things that make us humans what we are. Finding contentment without having to buy it is never bad. I love my “things”, but I question people who think the garbage that never ceases to pile up from our mindless consumption of products is okay.

This has nothing to do with climate change or some such pseudoscience, it has to do with remembering that we were left to be caretakers of this planet by God; how we treat our home is a reflection of our humanity or the lack thereof. All you have to do is go to a big box store and look at the trash in the parking lot. You quickly realize how shallow we’ve become or you turn a blind eye to it and just buy more stuff. The recession will have one beneficial effect; it may cause some of us to have to find joy in simple things because we won’t be able to afford the expensive toys we all enjoy quite so easily.

#4 Comment By andre On March 27, 2009 @ 4:01 am

Ford the best car 🙂

#5 Comment By brandi On August 29, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

i agree reverend ed!