WALL-E’s 15th Birthday: What the Disney Pixar Movie Did Right

WALL-E inspects one of his many Earthly trinkets. Image courtesy of Pixar

Fifteen years ago today, a little rust bucket robot named WALL-E sauntered his way into theaters, proclaiming a story of hope in a world parched by man-made debris. The film’s concerns about consumerism, technology takeovers, and environmental crises sounded like concerns for the future back then, but they’re all the more glaring now.

Last month, many parts of the US experienced the sort of dusty haze of WALL-Ethe world as a result of Canadian wildfires. Drought and extreme heat is the new world normal. Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey recently noticed about how the film worries about AI and evolving technology, saying that the film’s human characters represent “the future we’re driving into”. It’s a movie that got a surprising number of things right in its futuristic, sci-fi musings, so on its 15th anniversary, we’re looking back at what WALL-E got it right and the things it may have missed.

WALL-E trekking in the world. Image courtesy of Pixar

RIGHT: A failing (and aging) infrastructure

Rusty, dusted and all but broken, WALL-E, like the planet it occupies, is long overdue for a facelift that no one ever planned for. Instead of tackling the growing waste problem, the authorities say it is better to go on bail. They let robots roam the earth, their purpose being just to compact garbage instead of cleaning it up. That blasé approach to waste management mimics ours reality of recyclable materials– or rather, how Anrecyclable most things are.

WALL-E’s aged body reflects the kind of wear and tear allowed on some of our most valuable and necessary forms of infrastructure. Between bridges And slopes collapse, as well train derailments and chemical spills, we are in a moment that sees the consequences of prolonged inaction. The sweet robot may be robust, but the things it represents are becoming more and more fragile.

The city WALL-E lives in comes across as bordering New York. Image courtesy of Pixar

WRONG: A dry, dead planet

WALL-EEarth’s characterization is as an abandoned planet; not only is it free of humans, but it also lacks any sign of life. In one scene, the movie shows a completely dried up dock, a huge boat still standing in the sandy wreck. While extreme drought is becoming commonplace around the world, rising sea levels are one of the biggest threats of the climate crisis. WALL-E’s home seems fairly bordering on New York (he passes through a Times Square-style neighborhood of the run-down city, decked out in digital “Buy ‘n Large” ads), which looks like a formerly populous coastal city. As any New Yorker who has been in the city during hurricane season should know, that type of environment is more at risk for intense flood then quick drying.

Life on the Axiom is more virtual than anything. Image courtesy of Pixar

RIGHT: the spread of virtual experiences

Between the Metaverse and the ubiquity of devices like Amazon (AMZN)’s Alexa and Google Home, people are now more attuned to the virtual world than ever. On-board WALL-E‘s Axiom, a luxury spaceliner turned permanent residence, members of the community can change their outfits with the tap of a screen, receive on-demand food and drink, and stay connected 24/7 to everything the ship has to offer. Whether that means people streaming movies and shows, playing virtual reality games, or shopping with a fast delivery service, life on the Axiom has many similarities to our own consumer experiences today.

An early animation of WALL-E’s home on Earth. Image courtesy of Pixar

ERROR: physical media

WALL-E charms as a character thanks to his affinity for nostalgia. He looks Hello Dolly on cassette and records songs with a few old-fashioned buttons on his cubic torso. He’s a collector, someone curiously drawn to obsolete physical media, all of which work miraculously. The interest in the oldies isn’t what the movie is getting wrong here (physical media is the last line of defense finally from oblivion), but that detail of everything that works fine is. Take it from a writer who recently rewatched the movie on a scratched DVD; if these things get damaged on a shelf, how can we expect them to be okay after a near apocalypse?

(In addition, WALL-E plugs into an old, old iPod at some point, and we all know how reliable Apple products are after only a few years. . . )

Cleaning robot MO gets mad at WALL-E for polluting the path all the other bots use. Image courtesy of Pixar

RIGHT: Self-driving cars need some work

There are plenty of gags out there WALL-E draws about robots that can’t fathom that they’re straying from their pre-programmed paths – a la self-driving cars. Several times WALL-E and EVE pull tight merges on a robo-highway on the Axiom, only for every other robot to miss that signal to brake, causing multiple large pile-ups. That response time (or lack thereof) has long been one problem for self-driving cars, machines that cannot fully register the presence of Emergencies and trace accordingly. The stakes are clearly different between the movie and our reality, but the machine’s reactions are largely the same.

A wide shot of the Axiom, the starship that holds the world’s population. Image courtesy of Pixar

WRONG: space travel timeline

WALL-E establishes a rather vague timeline for the destruction of the Earth and the rapid innovation of space travel, other than two major years. The events of the film take place in 2805 and the planet is abandoned in favor of the Axiom ship in 2110 – less than 100 years from now. While great strides have certainly been made in space exploration in a shorter period of time, we still seem a long, long way from having a massive, population-carrying starship, lido deck and all. Tourist travel around the moon are only in development, and those are intended to be a round-trip flight, rather than the one-way route of the Axiom. We are in a new, privatized space race, but it has not yielded the most promising results.

The people of the Axiom return to Earth. Image courtesy of Pixar

RIGHT: Stopping the climate crisis will cost us all

The film ends in a just human victory, as the largely powerless captain of the Axiom takes control of his 2001: A space odysseycoded autopilot. He uses his authority to send the ship to Earth, a place where virtual worldly comforts do not exist. The people on the ship are happy to return to their planet, to work hard and get a little dirty to make things right (even though the legendary “pizza factory” doesn’t exist). It is a call to action, for those in positions of power to make tough decisions that ultimately benefit us all, and for the rest of us caught in a cycle of consumerism. Helping the Earth is not an easy task, but it is something we must prioritize. WALL-E was right then, and still is now.

WALL-E's 15th Anniversary: ​​What the Movie Did Right (and Wrong).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *