Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Is "WALL•E" a Godless Commie, or Just Adorable?

Bill Wyman's new column notes that many critics, although I am surely not among them, ignore the material in "WALL•E" that "[attacks] the American way of life." The claim is fair enough, but one can't help but wonder if there wasn't simply too much interesting stuff going on in Andrew Stanton's film to cover in a short review.

For example, imagine that you're a critic for a major daily, and have 450 words to write on a film that you think is fantastic (as most of "WALL•E's" reviewers do). Because you love the movie so much, you want your readers to go see it to. At this point, you can either talk about issues of exercise or obesity, or you can talk about visual bedazzlement, touching characters and perfect storytelling. Which one would you discuss?

What Wyman misses, however, is that kids movies have somehow become, over the past decade, the safest corner of mainstream cinema for political discourse. He opens his piece with:

If Michael Moore, or Oliver Stone, or, God forbid, some effete French director, had crafted a feature film that was a thinly disguised political broadside portraying Americans as recumbent tubbos who moved around on sliding barcaloungers with built-in video screens and soft drinks always at the ready, don’t you think there’d be some sort of notice taken?

But Pixar does it and …

… the reviewers barely mention it.


The thing is, a new Michael Moore movie is such a hot button issue in itself that everyone has already heard about it in the news by the time reviews run on release day. The interest buzzing around over a new Pixar film isn't its underlying political message, but the anticipated high-quality filmmaking and top-rate entertainment. Maybe reviewers decided to let that remain the headline, and let the audience figure out the underlying messages of lifestyle choices on their own.

Truth is, it's easier to get a political screenplay greenlit when it's "Antz" than when it's "Michael Clayton." Add a dash of whimsy and some cute comedy, and the topics of edgy adult dramas make great stories for the kids. While one would expect blowhard TV pundits to be most concerned about the material that appeals directly to the children, family-oriented movies tend to get a free pass as long as they aren't out to convert the tots to atheism or teach them to hate their religious leaders.

Take for example "Robots," 20th Century Fox's 2005 release from its computer-animation studio. The film comes from the same conglomerate responsible for the Fox News Channel and the New York Post, yet delivers a cry for socialism that would feel at home in an Upton Sinclair novel. The world of "Robots" is one in which corporations care only about the bottom line—where greedy CEOs abuse the downtrodden, lower-class worker robots, then discard them when they are no longer useful. The politics are overt enough before the film's rallying cry of a third act: The robots violently overthrow their corporate overlords, take over the means of production and transform their city into a utopian paradise. By comparison, "WALL•E's" commentary on wastefulness, civic responsibility and obesity seems downright tame.

Perhaps theses radical animation directors tapped into the perfect shield from controversy: the lessons people want to teach their kids. No one really wants to look their kid in the eyes and say, "Sorry Skippy, but if that cute little robot is no longer profitable to the company, it's the CEO's responsibility to discard him. He has to think of the shareholders! And there's nothing wrong with sitting on the couch all day staring at a TV screen—you don't need any exercise. Also, sorry I named you Skippy—I hope you don't get the shit kicked out of you at school." So those who disagree with the underlying political principals probably find it easier to pretend they're not there.

1 comment:

Brent said...

I'm uncomfortable with the subversive political leanings of this blog post.