So to kick off the countdown to Brave's opening, I'm posting my essay.
The film WALL-E is not the typical children's summer blockbuster. Yes, it includes giant robots, forces of good and bad, and the ubiquitous solution of coming together to solve a problem. The film grossed $63 million USD in its first weekend, and won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (IMDb, WALL-E). WALL-E went up against the hilariously motivating Kung-Fu Panda and the unabashedly cute Bolt. All three movies arguably pushed the boundaries of animation and were generally well received. A tale about a robot who goes into space for love, finds adventure on a lost cruise-ship, and returns home as the hero with a girl does not seem all that enthralling. What has made children, parents, and the academy praise WALL-E is the film's moral critiques on contemporary society. Director Andrew Stanton demonstrates the repercussions of a consumer lifestyle with a visual eloquence any audience can understand. He critiques consumerism throughout the film, but not quite as impressively or consisly than at the beginning. In the first five minutes of WALL-E, Stanton presents his argument clearly and believably without any sacrifice to plot.
WALL-E opens with Jerry Herman's "Put on your Sunday Clothes," an uplifting song that celebrates all the wonders "out there". To the music, Stanton sets images of generic space that navigate toward Earth. He introduces viewers to the globe not as the beautiful blue planet, but instead as a dull gray and ocher sphere surrounded by space debris. Diving past the Earth's choked atmosphere he presents a desolate planet full of still wind-turbines and sedate nuclear power-plants. The singer ironically declares that he will find "adventure in the evening air" as the camera pans through a particularly smoggy area and reveals a city. (Stanton, 0:00:00 - 0:01:09)
Obviously, Stanton is not meandering toward his argument; he presents the problem within the first minute of the film. Even before offering an explanation (which comes after a few minutes more), Stanton explicitly states that there is too much waste for Earth to handle. The alternative energy sources stand unused, trash crowding them on all sides (0:00:45). Piles of refuse ominously tower over skyscrapers (0:00:55). These visuals suggest no amount of ingenuity can offset or compensate for consumerism's inherent ability to create waste.
Juxtaposed to the visuals, "Put on your Sunday Clothes" does not simply offer ironic ambient noise- it clarifies that consumerism is to blame. "Put on your Sunday Cothes" comes from the popular musical, Hello, Dolly which takes place at the turn of the 19th centuary when consumerism was just blossoming (IMDb, Hello, Dolly!). Essentially, the song suggests that there is always something better "out there," whether that be a "slick town," "dime cigars," or "lights... bright as stars." Combining these lyrics with WALL-E 's camera zooming from the "out there" of space onto Earth's surface forces viewers to look at the repercussions of the hero's consumerist mentality.
To enhance this understanding, Stanton introduces subtle wind inn ambiance and begins to turn the song's volume down. As the camera begins to settle on the city viewers realize that WALL-E is not simply a two hour escape from modernity. The audio and visual techniques emphasize isolation and desolation while triggering feelings of guilt and fear. Stanton devotes ten full seconds of this emptiness to linger in an uncomfortable limbo. Then, he gives us a reprieve; WALL-E meanders on screen, playing "Put on your Sunday Clothes." (Stanton, 0:01:09-0:01:22)
Stanton does not introduce his hero in a way that fully alleviates the audience from the movie's first minute. He introduces him from a distant, high angle. Viewers cannot really make out what WALL-E is, just a moving square among vast towers of trash. "Put on your Sunday Clothes" distinctly plays from WALL-E, but its a distorted recording that plays desolately. (0:01:23 - 0:01:40) WALL-E is a robot alone in the world, vulnarable to it's emptiness. The music WALL-E listens to establishes him as a friendly and human-like entity. Naturally, the audience empathizes with WALL-E and cling to him as a symbol of life, hope, goodwill, and happiness.
Stanton continues to build WALL-E and the viewer's relationship. The audience sees that WALL-E compresses trash and stacks it, surely a futile task (0:01:41-0:02:43). However, his willingness to continue on even without a higher authority truly inspires. From the robot and the audience's relationship Stanton recreates hypocritical consumerist situation. Lovable and relate-able WALL-E was created to clean up after people. Should the audience accept his programmed purpose as the only outcome? Or indulge in his greater purpose that, if they are truthful, causes guilt? Someone, or something, always must clean up the mess. It's up to WALL-E to better the planet. Yet, WALL-E's human characteristics, his curiosity, pet roach, large eyes and infectious cheerfulness, makes viewers question the ethics of consumerism. There is no "out there" that makes everything bad disappear.
By now, Stanton has spent nearly three minutes of Pixar animation convincing young hearts that consumerism does terrible things to the planet and to people. The youth may easily swallow his argument and accept it without question. More sophisticated audiences, however, quickly break down emotions and discredit any argument without facts. To prevent this, Stanton creates an prophetic explanation that attempts to suspend disbelief.
WALL-E, finished with his day's work, returns to home on a path that recounts Earth's last inhabited days. First, Stanton personifies consumerism with shots of a monsterous "BnL Ultrastore," a one-storied, bright-colored facade recalling Target, Wal-Mart, CostCo or any other cooperate super-center. Even the name references real-life Wal-Mart SuperCenters or SuperTargets. Next, the camera cuts to "BnL Gas," a petrol station with dozens of pumps, connecting consumerism to natural resources. WALL-E treds over "BnL Currencey" while passing the "BnL Bank," hints that every facet of monetary life connects to consumerism. The next camera pan shows advertisments covering a street not unlike New York Times Square. A newspaper headlines "Too Much Trash; Earth Covered," building Stantons reasoning against consumerism. The photo on the paper shows the BnL CEO giving Nixon hand-gestures and infront of a presidential seal, tieing consumerism into the government and it's lobby system. Stanton cements BnL as a consumerist effigy when he reveals its full name, "Buy N Large." (0:02:54 - 0:03:19)
WALL-E's opening culminates in a series of advertisements that not only provide a explaination of where all the people are, but furnishes Stanton's audience with the perceived pinnacle of consumerism. The camera uses one clean pan-through that shows each screen pop up. The first screen fills with debris and cheerily shouts "too much garbage in our face?" The second shows a cruise like space ship above earth and touts "plenty of space out in space." The third screen shows the "BnL Starliners leaving each day" while several doe-eyed WALL-Es "clean up while you're away" on the fourth screen. (0:04:14 - 0:04:24) The effect shows a consumerist thought-process: presentation of a problem, an escape from the problem, and a solution to the problem that does not effect the individual. A final, large screen shows the "jewel of the BnL fleet, the Axiom" and all its animities (0:04:28-0:05:00). It's a space cruise: the posh thing to do, where everything you could possibly want is provided for you. And of course, its better "out there." It is the apex of consumerism.
From here Stanton develops his character and creates a wholesome plot that has sold millions of tickets, toys, and trinkets. Real world ironies aside, WALL-E accomplishes a feat that few mass-media even attempt. Addressing contemporary issues puts all those involved at risk, and doing it successfully requires great talent. Stanton tactfully and tastefully presents consumerism as a problem at the movie's beginning to quickly state his argument. It sets the tone for the movie's entirety and allows the plot to move forward without needing to address the argument. Throughout the movie, Stanton continues with appeals to emotions, ethics, and logic that touch back with those first five minutes. His message remains approachable without statistics or facts, but maintains an intellectual quality. For the children, a natural curiosity for the world makes WALL-E an easy adventure across the universe and back. For more adult audiences, and for children as they start to mature, WALL-E offers an unobtrusive exploration of the future.
Stanton, Andrew, Dir. WALL·E. Dir. Andrew STanton." Disney, Pixar: 2008, DVD.
"WALL·E." Box Office Mojo. IMBd.com, Inc., 2010. Web. <http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=wall-e.htm>.
"Hello, Dolly!." Internet Movie Database. IMBd.com, Inc., 2010. Web. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064418/>.
"WALL-E - Intro." youtube. Web. 2 Feb 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1e26efPnUY>