Thracian gladiators. Highland knights. Petulant teenagers. These are the kinds of people who are born to lead revolutions. Courageous defiance comes with the territory of being a sword bearing, bow-wielding fanatic – but unassuming rubbish collector? Hardly the stuff of legend.
WALL-E is largely remembered for its magnificent first act – a beautiful, breathtaking piece of silent filmmaking and a masterclass in visual storytelling. Early versions of the script kept this motif throughout, as the titular trashcan finds his way onto a spaceship of gelatinous blobs – but director Andrew Stanton and co couldn’t keep a story straight without some dialogue, and so WALL-E’s story took a different turn. WALL-E might be known for its first half, but its second deserves a place in the annals of film history as one of cinema’s greatest rebellions.
Okay, let’s run through the checklist:
- A far-flung future not so unlike the present?
- Private companies have replaced governments, culminating in one global corporate dystopia?
- Evil tyrant, heading an army of faceless drones?
- Humanity reduced to mindless stooges, suckling at the teat of their overlord without free thought?
- The young indoctrinated from birth to respect, reinforce and ultimately love the system?
- Those acting outside of the norm are sent for ‘repairs’
Strip away that pastel filter and WALL-E is easily Pixar’s darkest film. Add a young innocent, raised in the desert and ready to take on the system for his friends, and this even starts to look like one of Disney’s other lynchpin franchises.
It’s worth noting that this family flick – made by DISNEY, current owners of Pixar, Marvel, ESPN, ABC, Vice, Lucasfilm, soon-to-be Fox and eventually your vital organs – is clearly showing children the dangers of corporate monopoly. Even if that sentiment is a little nuanced, there is an obvious thread that business don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart, or are certainly willing to sacrifice humanity for simplicity. Stay the course, don’t buck the trend – just survive.
“But I don’t want to survive, I wanna live!” cries the Captain as he faces down his robo-wheeled master. But who inspires the mild-mannered beaurocrat to strive for more than his so-so slovenly existence? Only a working class hero who, lets be honest, starts out just wanting to get the girl. WALL-E stands apart in the revolution genre for having a romance that’s actually worth rooting for – forget Peeta and Gale, i’m shipping the trash robot and the sexy Dyson.
WALL-E and Eve’s love story isn’t just impressive in the world of rebellion, it’s a monumental feat of animation. The Tyrell Corporation’s motto may be ‘more human than human’ but they ought to take some lessons from Pixar. The minutia of WALL-E’s movements, his love of routine and endless fidgeting – he’s more human than the slobs he meets aboard the Axiom – and that’s precisely the point.
From Katniss Everdeen to Harry Potter, V to Luke Skywalker, revolutionaries fight to overthrow their oppressors. WALL-E’s rebellion pits him against a tyrannical overlord and legions of identical thugs, but it’s not just a battle to stop injustice – it’s a revolution of ideas. WALL-E inspires optimism, idealism, hope – humanity’s greatest resources. Of course it goes without saying that we should teach children to battle injustice, but WALL-E presents a revolution that takes that next step, showing that the story doesn’t end with the death of a monarch, or the topping of an establishment – it’s about perseverance.
WALL-E never stops, he doesn’t give up. It’s the first thing we learn about him, as he carries on his duty clearing Earth, even as humanity has fled and his peers have long-since shut down. This is what he imparts to the captain, not just an awareness that he is under the thumb of a dictatorship. With one handshake WALL-E sparks inspiration – he gets the captain learning, wakes him up from his life inside the system. The incredible end credits say it all really, as the Axiom’s residents rebuild earth. We witness their ingenuity, their imagination and their persistence – all framed by a whirlwind tour of art history.
Behind its family-friendly image isn’t just some grim tale of dystopia and despair – WALL-E eclipses many of its contemporaries not just in animation but in genre filmmaking, to deliver an uplifting and impactful story of rebellion. WALL-E goes beyond the all-too-real challenges of fighting injustice to look at what humanity needs to succeed – and does it in style to boot.